Friday of the Thirteenth Week in Ordinary Time
Carravagio, the master if not one of the great inaugurators of the baroque style, painted a series of images that portray the life of St. Matthew. In the Contarelli Chapel in St. Louis of the French in Rome, just a few steps from the Piazza Navona, one can stand before these paintings illustrating the conversion of St. Matthew, the writing of the Gospel, and the evangelist’s martyrdom. The deep contrasts of color, light, and shade make for dramatic portrayal of three aspects of the evangelist’s life. One painting in particular always grabs my attention. Matthew is sitting at the table surrounded by men. At the other end of the table Christ appears and points to the figure of Matthew who is absorbed in counting pennies, not gold florins, or scudi, but the equivalent of pennies. There Matthew sits counting one penny, two pennies, three pennies…. In the middle of the table one of the men looks at Jesus and gestures unbelieving to this pathetic figure whose life is caught up in counting pennies. No doubt he recognizes Jesus for at least a holy man and no doubt wonders what on earth Jesus sees in the young man whose life revolves around small change. Did the presence of Jesus completely transform Mathew or did Jesus call forth some inner spark which later flamed so much that Matthew could both articulate the life of Christ and die for what he knew. Whatever occurred at that calling, the picture always consoles me and helps me realize that God’s grace can transform our meager and sometimes misguided efforts. At times, like Matthew, we are face down counting pennies and God calls us to look up and become instruments for changing the world.