Friends, our Gospel for today is the simple but magnificent story of the conversion of Matthew, called Levi by Luke. I urge you to read it in Luke 5:27-32 and meditate upon it this week, for it’s about you.
There is a splendid painting of this scene by the late Renaissance artist Caravaggio. Matthew sits at his tax collector booth in all of the finery of sixteenth-century Italy. He is surrounded by his wealthy friends and by all of the paraphernalia of tax collecting. Across from him stands the Lord, wrapped in shadow. He stretches out his hand toward Matthew, as a shaft of light falls on the tax collector’s table. It calls to mind the hand of God from Michelangelo’s Sistine Ceiling, suggesting that conversion is like a new creation.
Matthew points his finger at his own chest and looks incredulously at Jesus, as if to say, “you’re calling me? The likes of me?” Yes! Jesus calls whom he wills, and Paul tells us in his letter to Timothy that he wants all people to be saved. Even those of us who feel a million miles from him, perhaps sunk in a lifestyle that has alienated us from God, God calls us, just as he did that first-century tax collector.