When Christ first encountered Matthew, he was a publican, sitting at the custom desk at Capernaum. As a tax collector for Rome, Matthew was one of the most despised people of his community.
When Jesus entered the room, he simply told Matthew, “Follow me.” The tax collector got up and changed the course of his life and eventually would change ours as one of the great evangelists of the New Testament.
Jesus would justify his association with a person such as Matthew at the banquet hosted by Levi. Responding to the murmurs of disapproval by the scribes and Pharisees he exclaimed, “They that are well have no need of a physician, but they that are sick,” adding, “For I came not to call the just, but sinners.”
Indeed, Matthew would go on to document Jesus’ life and became one of his greatest followers.
Matthew probably wrote his Gospel in the language of his people, Aramaic. This made it accessible to Christians of Jewish origin and emphasizes that Jesus is the Messiah who fulfills the promises of the Old Testament.
According to some sources, he would die of natural causes. Other traditions, considered untrustworthy, have it that his earthly life ended in Ethiopia. In the description of the four beings of the Apocalypse (eagle, ox, lion, man) St. Matthew is associated with that of man. His relics are located in the crypt of the Cathedral of Salerno.
The “Calling of St. Matthew” painted by Caravaggio between 1599 and 1600 is in the Church of St. Louis of the French in Rome. An evocative painting in which light plays a fundamental role, is a symbol of grace, which does not come from the window but from Jesus. A scene that draws the viewer into the dramatic action: Jesus’ finger points to Matthew, who in turn indicates himself, to ask for confirmation of the call.
The story of St. Matthew and the painting of Caravaggio marked the life of Pope Francis, who told of it in his interview with the Rev. Antonio Spadaro, SJ, in La Civiltà Cattolica in 2013, in which, in relation to the figure of St. Matthew, the Holy Father defines himself as “a sinner to whom the Lord turned his eyes.”
Adapted by A.J. Valentini