In today’s Gospel pericope, Jesus calls Matthew to become his disciple. Jesus gazed at this man and said simply, “Follow me.” Did Jesus invite Matthew because the tax collector merited it? Was Jesus responding to some hidden longing in the sinner’s heart? Certainly not. Grace, by definition, comes unbidden and without explanation.
In Caravaggio’s magnificent painting of this scene, Matthew responds to Jesus’ summons by pointing incredulously to himself and wearing a quizzical expression as if to say, “Me? You want me?” The hand of Christ in Caravaggio’s painting is adapted from the hand of God the Father in Michelangelo’s depiction of the creation of man on the Sistine Chapel. Just as creation is ex nihilo, so conversion is a new creation.
Matthew immediately got up and followed the Lord. But where did he follow him? To a banquet! “While at table in his house. . .” is the first thing we read after the declaration that Matthew follow him. Before he calls Matthew to do anything, Jesus invites him to recline in easy fellowship around a festive table. The deepest meaning of Christian discipleship is not to work for Jesus but rather, to be with Jesus.