This Monday, 9/21, is the Feast of St. Matthew the Apostle. St. Matthew is not just one of the 12 Apostles, he also the author of one of the Gospels, and he includes his own conversion story in his account of the life of Christ. We know that before encountering Christ, St. Matthew worked as a tax collector for the Roman Empire. Since it was common practice of tax collectors to extort extra money from non-Roman subjects of the Empire, he would have been considered a traitor by his Jewish brethren. In the 9th chapter of St. Matthew’s Gospel he describes the moment when Jesus was passing by the customs post where he was sitting, engaged in his work. Our Lord said to Matthew, “Follow me.” At that, Matthew “got up and followed him.”
Interestingly, Matthew places the account of his conversion immediately following Our Lord’s healing of a paralytic. Seeing the faith of the friends of the paralytic, Jesus first forgives the man’s sins before commanding him to rise and walk home. It is unlikely that the pairing of these stories is accidental. The movement of Christ is contrasted with Matthew’s sitting at his post. It is implied that Matthew is “stuck,” that he is rendered paralyzed by his sinful life. The encounter with Christ liberates him from his sins, and he is able to get up and follow the Lord along the way. Just as the faith of the friends of the paralytic led to his healing by Christ, we must not underestimate the power of our prayers for the conversion of loved ones who are also stuck in sin and find themselves far away from God. Christ is always passing by, calling out to us: “Follow me.” We pray that, like St. Matthew, all might notice Him and hear His voice, and rise from our place to follow Him along the way.
Here’s an interesting video about the artist Caravaggio that gives a very good analysis of his masterpiece: The Call of St. Matthew.