The Calling of St. Matthew

The Calling of Saint Matthew by Caravaggio

The Calling of St. Matthew by Caravaggio

This provocative photo represents a moment, frozen in time, where Jesus has come and commanded Levi the tax collector (his name became Matthew after becoming an apostle) to follow him.

  • Jesus is humble. He is barefoot, without wealth. His eyes are veiled.  The only hint of divinity is the thin halo around his head.  St. Peter is with Jesus, also barefoot.  They are calling the rich, contemporary tax collector into a different world.
  • Jesus’s call is brief. He is ready to leave, his feet are already turning towards the door.
  • Several friends may miss the call because of their love of money.  The friends are so taken with their money that they have not even noticed Jesus’ arrival. They are even pictured like Hans Holbein 1545 print where gamblers were so engrossed with their money that they were unaware of the appearance of Death.
  • The call comes abruptly and unexpectedly. Saint Matthew is in awe, pointing to himself as if asking “Who me?”, his other hand resting on the coin he was counting before Christ arrived.
  • The moment of decision.  Jesus is ready to leave (his feet turned towards the door). St. Matthew has one hand attached to his money, the other to his unworthiness.  Jesus has called St. Matthew.  It is the moment of decision, and in another second, St. Matthew would rise up, a follower of Jesus.

Pope Francis has said that he often went to San Luigi as a young man to contemplate the painting. Referring both to Christ’s outstretched arm and Matthew’s response, Francis said, “This is me, a sinner on whom the Lord has turned his gaze.” (See wikipedia)

For further analysis see here.