The Calling of Matthew (Levi)

Why did Matthew (and others) immediately decide to follow Jesus?

Matthew: 9:9-12:   As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” he told him, and Matthew got up and followed him.

10 While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and sinners came and ate with him and his disciples. 11 When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”

12 On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice. For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

Luke 5:27: 27 After this, Jesus went out and saw a tax collector by the name of Levi sitting at his tax booth. “Follow me,” Jesus said to him, 28 and Levi got up, left everything and followed him.


The Calling of Saint Matthew by Caravaggio (1600)

The Calling of Saint Matthew is one of the first works of Michelangelo Caravaggio and is located in the chapel of the French congregation’s church in Rome, San Luigi dei Francesi. Matthew was a Jewish tax collector in Capernaum, and is also known as Levi. Matthew was considered greedy and rich and Jesus asked him to give up his worldly possessions and take to the straight and narrow path.

In this painting, Caravaggio depicts the very moment when Matthew first realizes he is being called. Although it is difficult to see, Jesus appears outside of the room through a window. This is the artist’s way of respecting the literal interpretation of what is written in the Bible that “Jesus saw Matthew sitting at his booth.”

Martin Luther interpreted the calling of the Matthew, Andrew and others as examples of ministers of God’s Word who are called to proclaim the message of forgiveness and salvation. Jesus called common and ordinary people (day laborers, fishermen, and sinful tax collectors) to preach that Jesus came to save and to announce the forgiveness of sins. He did this because forgiveness brings life and salvation and creates the environment for how the Holy Spirit leads people to trust God, grow in faith, and respond with praise, prayer, love, and service for others! (Robert Kolb. Luther and the Stories of God, 135)


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