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. (Matthew 9:9)
The Calling of St. Matthew by the Italian Baroque master Caravaggio is like a photograph that captures the split second between the call of Jesus (‘Follow me’) and Matthew’s response.
Notice the explosion of light into this dark room. Matthew and his cronies are on the left, seated at the table, doing their dark business of counting the taxes they’ve collected for the Roman occupiers of Judea. Jesus appears on the right, points towards Matthew, and says ‘Follow me.’
Of course, we don’t hear His words in the painting, but we see the light beaming in the same direction as the words are spoken – from Jesus to Matthew - and that’s the point. The call of Jesus, which is the very word of God, brings light – it bursts into us, illuminates our darkness, to lead us outward and onward. ‘Sin’ is the state of being curved in on oneself – self-absorbed – but the light of Christ opens us to new life and new possibility.
This painting is a wonderful illustration, not only of Matthew 9:9-13, but also of 2 Corinthians 4:6 - For it is God who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. In the creation story (Genesis ch.1), God says, ‘Let there be light … and there was light.’ Here in Matthew 9, Jesus says, ‘Follow me … and he got up and followed him.’ It’s exactly the same – God speaks, and it is so.
God acts through His words. His Word is alive and active. Just as it was for Matthew, so it is now for you. ‘Follow me,’ Jesus says. The way to encounter the living God, to have Him dynamically active in your life, is through the Bible. To read and study the Scripture, as we’re doing now, is not simply to get information about God. If you attend to the Word with trust and faith, the Bible is the way to meet God Himself and hear Him speak. And so the more we read the Bible, the more clearly we will hear His voice, and the more we will come to see and know Him.
This is why prayer must be a two-way conversation with God: we hear God’s voice in Scripture and we respond with prayer. If we’re trying to converse with God, but not encountering Him, it may be because we’re not reading the Bible. In the words of Tim Keller, ‘Prayer is a continuing conversation that God has started through His Word and His grace, which eventually becomes a full encounter with Him.’ So it’s a journey that begins and continues by following Jesus.
‘Follow me.’ And he got up and followed Him. (Matthew 9:9)