28 February 2009

Saturday after Ash Wednesday, The Call of Levi/Matthew

Caravaggio painted The Call of St Matthew in 1599-1600. The account of this event from St Luke 5:27-32, read today at Mass, uses the name ‘Levi’ for the tax-collector.

After this Jesus went out, and saw a tax collector, named Levi, sitting at the tax office; and he said to him, "Follow me." And he left everything, and rose and followed him. And Levi made him a great feast in his house; and there was a large company of tax collectors and others sitting at table with them. And the Pharisees and their scribes murmured against his disciples, saying, "Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?" And Jesus answered them, "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance."

William Russell Maltby was a Protestant clergyman and author who wrote an imaginary letter from Levi/Matthew to Zacchaeus, another tax collector featured in St Luke 19:1-10. (I have found that the story of this little man appeals very much to young people here in the Philippines.) I haven’t been able to find any information about Maltby except that he published a book, Christ and His Cross, in 1936.

I came across this letter in a book called Machnaimh don Charghais (Reflections for Lent) by Fr Caoimhín de Líon of the Archdiocese of Dublin. I’m translating from his Irish (Gaelic) translation of the original.

Dear Zacchaeus

This very day I had Jesus, the prophet from Nazarath, here for dinner. I’m excited about him . . . He was so easy to listen and speak to. I told him how I came to be a tax collector . . . he listened to me and looked at me so kindly as if he understood everything. The more I looked at him the more I wanted to start my life anew. At the end of the meal he left and my gaze fo9llowed him till he was out of sight. It was all I could do not to run after him. I understand that he’s heading for Jericho. Be sure to see him. Don’t let anything get in your way.

PS We’re on the wrong road, Zacchaeus. But, since Jesus was here, I’m thinking that God hasn’t given up on us yet. ‘Do you think that we can both make a fresh start?’

Detail of the face of Christ from Caravaggio's painting

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