I have spent a dispiriting amount of the Sabbath trying to download this painting for you (Everything was the size of Kiddermister thus rendering my tiny Chromebook unable to take the strain). I think it is worth the effort though. (Thanks to @_F_B_G_ for drawing my attention to this painting)
It is, of course, Caravaggio’s the Calling of St Matthew. It shows the precise moment when a determined Jesus (accompanied here by a less certain Peter) confidently points toward Matthew and calls him. Caravaggio has transplanted the scene to his own time and people are dressed accordingly. The most striking part of the painting for me is the “Really? This bloke?” expressions on the people at the table. In fact some people don’t even look up at Jesus, absorbed, as they are by the serious business of counting money. No one, however, is more surprised than Matthew who is pointing at his chest just to make sure that it is him Jesus is looking at.
Obviously, Jesus was not expected. No one had made provision for the visiting religious teacher. The Message says that Jesus was just passing along and saw Matthew at work – collecting taxes. Tax collectors in the time of Christ were commonly known as collaborators – Jews working for the hated Romans and intensely dishonest ones at that. It was accepted that they would be skimming off a hefty cut from the money they collected for their own benefit, this being a completely different set up from the sterling work done by our own Inland Revenue who take a very even and fair view of administering our contributions to society. (Unless you are huge Multi National company in which case you will find the terms are fair beyond your wildest hopes and dreams) There is no indication that Matthew was any different from the other men around this table. The calling came out of the blue in spiritually dark and dingy surroundings. Jesus did not wait for a more favourable situation and, to his credit, neither did Matthew. Jesus called. Matthew followed.
I was thinking, what are we waiting for? Before we serve? Find our Christian thing to do? I bet that if I ran a survey, I would find that the amount of Christian people there are milling about in our churches could be making a significant difference to society if everyone was doing “something”. Actually, forget society, lets start with making a significant difference to our churches. I also bet (please don’t get the idea that I am a betting woman) that the actual things that are being done are falling disproportionately on a small amount of people who are, quite frankly, jiggered. Are we waiting until we are better spiritually? Till we have got the hang of the Christian life a bit more? Maybe, we will begin to get a bit more involved when the kids are older or we are more financially comfortable? We might not feel capable or qualified to serve. There are so many people about who are very “deep” people and next to them, I may barely feel like a Christian at all. Well maybe you don’t need to lead a retreat for people seeking deliverance from twenty eight demons. It doesn’t look like that’s where Matthew started. He invited his mates round for tea, because he wanted them to meet Jesus. Can you put jam on a scone and invite someone to eat with you one afternoon? Can you ask someone in church you are unfamiliar with if they would like to join you for a cup of weak tea and a chat at the back of church? (Do NOT just take them and leave them while you jolly off with your mates – this is service remember) Can you sing “Deep and Wide” and do the actions? I have met very few kids’ workers who would say no to someone at the back stopping the little darlings necking the Communion squash. Are you fairly good with Social Media? Could you bung things on Twitter regularly? Lots of people looking for church look there first apparently. There is so much to do and so few people and maybe now is the time to get going. Don’t wait to be in a better place or more spiritual. (There has to be a small caveat here. If you are struggling with anger issues and know that if you are put in charge of social media you will not be able to stop yourself continually writing the word BUM on Twitter, then the powers that be may not let you go ahead. That’s fair enough I think. But do not be discouraged. Find something else)
We live in uncertain times. We need to start now. We don’t need to wait for Jesus’ call. It has already happened.
As you look around right now, wouldn’t you say that in about four months it will be time to harvest? Well, I’m telling you to open your eyes and take a good look at what’s right in front of you. These Samaritan fields are ripe. It’s harvest time! John 4 35