Saint Matthew, or Levi depending on the evangelist telling the story, is a figure whose name looms large in the sacred story of Christianity, but about whom we know precious little. We do know that, at least according to the Gospel that bears his name, Matthew left his job to follow the One who said, “Follow me.” He didn’t even clock out.
I am continually struck by the spontaneity of the Apostles, particularly because I am often afflicted with a great deal of hesitation when it comes to following Jesus. While this might be attributed to hindsight and the ability of the Gospel writers to tell, retell, reshape, and recreate their stories over a series of years, what I think is genuine is the urgency behind the call of Jesus. “Follow me” doesn’t even feel like a question.
I wonder what it was about this summons that sounded like “good news” to the tax collector we know as Matthew. Maybe it was the fact that someone saw him as a person, not a despised profession, and invited him to share in a life-changing community. Jesus is all about life-changing community.
After a brief genealogical review, the first person to speak in Matthew’s Gospel is an angel speaking to Joseph, inviting him to transcend his fear and partner in the in-breaking of the Reign of God happening in Mary. I find interesting connections between fearlessness and Good News in Matthew’s Gospel. This is captured vividly for me in Rembrandt’s “Saint Matthew and the Angel.” It almost looks to me that Matthew was caught by surprise and in mid-sentence by the angelic visitor and leans in to hear the fullness of the Good News before he continues writing.
There is an intensity in the painting with light emanating from the messenger, the man, and the manuscript. The furrowed brow, grey beard, and wrinkled hands of Matthew tell the story of a long life. The collection of wrinkled pages suggests that life was filled with stories to share.
Is Matthew writing new material? Is he revising old material in light of new revelation? Is he simply awestruck by the encounter? The mind races to capture what is happening here.
One of the best ways I have learned to hear of fearlessness is in community. Perhaps the angels we search for so desperately can be found in those closest to us. On days when I am tempted to shrink into fear and anxiety, I find it helpful to be with people who can share the weariness and offer me a path forward by listening and reflecting back to me where Good News might be hidden right under my nose.
I also find it helpful to find some way of recording the Good News of God that happens in my life by journaling or drawing to give me tactile ways of recalling it later. I’ve even heard of an idea of collecting Good News in a jar, and watching the blessings of God overflow as we pay careful attention to how God is present in our lives.
I may not be able to fully replicate the spontaneity of the Matthew, but I can pay closer attention to the angels in my midst. I can listen to and be amazed by the Good News. I can write it down and count God’s blessings one by one.
A Prayer for Today
We thank you, heavenly Father, for the witness of your apostle and evangelist Matthew to the Gospel of your Son our Savior; and we pray that, after his example, we may with ready wills and hearts obey the calling of our Lord to follow him; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.