Here in a darkened space Matthew writes his gospel. He has hurried to his task, and so still half stands as he leans on a stool which is tipping out of the painting into our space. He is not a young man, and his red robe speaks of his coming martyrdom. He has taken a pen in his hand and is leaning forward to write when an angel appears over his shoulder. The angel is in the midst of a swirl of cloth, lit from above. He speaks to the apostle, and with his fingers starts to detail the content of the gospel. Matthew has turned his head to give him his full attention as he wants to hear what heaven has to say. He is not too pre-occupied to be interrupted or aided by God.
This painting is one of three executed by the Italian artist Caravaggio for the Contarelli Chapel in the church of San Luigi dei Francesi in Rome in 1602. The other two depict Matthew’s call and martyrdom. This painting is set high in the chapel, so that the viewer is encouraged to look up to Matthew, in all senes of that word.
First of the four, saint Matthew is the Man;
A gospel that begins with generation,
Family lines entwine around the Son
Born in Judea, born for every nation
Born under Law that all the Law of Moses
Might be fulfilled and flower into Grace
As every word and deed in time discloses
Eternal love within a human face.
This is the gospel of the great reversal
A wayside weed is Solomon in glory
The smallest sparrow’s fall is universal
And Christ the heart of every human story
‘I will be with you, though you may not see
And all you do, you do it unto me’
Malcolm Guite, Matthew
As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth; and he said to him, ‘Follow me.’ And he got up and followed him.
And as he sat at dinner in the house, many tax-collectors and sinners came and were sitting with him and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, ‘Why does your teacher eat with tax-collectors and sinners?’ But when he heard this, he said, ‘Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” For I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.’
who through your Son called Matthew, the tax collector,
to be an apostle and evangelist:
free us from all greed and selfish love,
that we may follow in the steps of Jesus Christ our Lord;
who lives and reigns with you
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, world without end.
SEC Collect of St Matthew