“The Calling of St. Matthew,” by Hendrick ter Brugghen… (“Who? Me?”)
The next major Feast Day is Monday September 21. (Here the term “feast” does not refer to a “large meal” – typically a celebration – but rather to an annual religious celebration … dedicated to a particular saint.) So September 21 is the Feast for “St Matthew, Evangelist.”
There’s more on St. Matthew further below, but first it’s time to do some reflecting. For one thing, many churches have their “Rally Day” this time of year. Such Rally Days mark the beginning of a new year of Sunday School, not to mention a new liturgical year. They also mark the end of summer vacation – with its generally low attendance – and a time for welcoming new parish members.
Aside from that, September 20 is National Back to Church Sunday. (“Strategically designed to help churches reach out and invite everyone to try church again.”)
So this reflection deals with some basics: What do you get for going to church? What does it mean to “become a Christian,” or “begin your journey toward Jesus.” (See John 6:37.) More basically, some potential converts may ask, “Who is this ‘God,’ and what can ‘He’ do for me?“
Yet a third variation: “How can I get God – who created the universe – to do good things for me?”
Here’s my take: Getting good stuff from God should be at least as hard as shooting the head off a match from 90 yards away. “It’s hard as hell… But now and then I’ll do it just right, and light one.”
Bear with me…
Over the millenia, two basic answers have been formulated on “does God exist?” The first might be called the “Greek” view, which says there is no God and that we pitiful humans are at the whim of a merciless uncaring fate. The other might be called the Hebraic view.
That view says that not only does God exist, but – that if you play your cards right – you can get Him to do good things for you, personally and as an individual. (Put another way, there is one God and that if you approach Him in the proper manner, He can make your life ever so much better.)
I explored this question in On the wisdom of Virgil – and an “Angel.” That in turn was inspired by a series of lectures, Hebrews, Greeks and Romans: Foundations of Western Civilization, via audiobook by Professor Timothy Shutt. See also Job the not patient – REDUX.
Job REDUX noted Professor Shutt’s saying that when it comes to understanding the whole idea of God, we humans are “simply not up to the task.” (We are no more up to the task of fully understanding God than “cats are prepared to study calculus. It’s just not in our nature.”)
And Wisdom of Virgil noted Shutt’s observation that when it comes to such questions – like “does God exist?” – we humans tend to answer in terms of black or white. (Or “all or nothing.”) That is, most people say either that there is a “God who controls all things, or that there must be no God at all.” In other words, there’s no middle ground. (In our view.)
There is … an overarching order at work in the world, a final coherence in the way that things work. But it remains out of human reach, and despite our efforts, we can merely come to know it only in part…
The emphasized “only in part” would seem to be just plain common sense. If there is indeed a Force that Created the Universe, then we pitiful human beings – living a mere 70 or 80 years, if lucky – would (logically speaking) be hard pressed to ever fully understand it. (Or “Him.”)
But just because we can’t fully understand “Him” doesn’t mean “He” doesn’t exist. Thus there is – most likely – an “overarching order,” and that overarching order could well be the very God who provides the “final coherence in the way that things work.”
The problem is that we “earthy” humans tend to think in terms of “all or nothing.” We tend to think that if this “God” doesn’t cater to our every whim – or if “He” does something we don’t like, or just can’t understand – then “He” must not exist at all. (“I guess I showed Him!“)
But the good news is: We can still get to know God, even if “only in part.”
Which brings up the Hell’s Angel.
As noted in Virgil and an “Angel,” his name was Magoo (from the ‘Frisco chapter), and:
…on days when he isn’t working, he goes out to the dump and tries to shoot the heads off match sticks. “It’s hard as hell,” he said. “But now and then I’ll do it just right, and light one…” But the really strange thing is how many people think that dealing with God – the Force that Created the Universe – is somehow easier than trying to shoot the head off a match stick…
So again, here’s my take on the two key questions. (Does God exist? And if He does, how can I get good stuff from Him?) The answer? Getting good stuff from God should be at least as hard as shooting the head off a match from 90 yards away. The good news: It isn’t always that hard.
One thing you can do is accept the promise of Jesus in John 6:37. Another thing you can do is read the Bible on a daily basis, to find out how other people have successfully approached this “God” person. A third thing you can do is realize the process is both interactive and ongoing. (The more you do it the better you get at it.)
And finally, the fourth – and perhaps the most difficult – thing you can do is simply realize the fundamental principle that just because something bad happens to you – or just because “God doesn’t cater to you every whim” – doesn’t mean He doesn’t exist.
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This year I added some different paintings, including ter Brugghen‘s take on the calling of St. Matthew, at the top of the page. See The Calling of St Matthew – Web Gallery of Art, which noted that Ter Brugghen spent ten years in Italy and likely studied under the noted Italian artist Caravaggio. Caravaggio in turn “exerted a great influence on him” and sometimes ter Brugghen “repeated the subjects of Caravaggio, like in the Calling of St. Matthew.”
As to the ter Brugghen painting at the top of the page:
Christ and his follower appear to the left as dark figures in the foreground. The main accent is on the brightly illuminated group on the right [including the] mercenary soldier pointing to the money on the table… The light enters in a broad beam … from the left. However, the quality of the light is original; it is lighter, richer, and more atmospheric than Caravaggio’s, which seldom has the brightness or softness of real daylight.
Note also the “six gesticulating hands in the center.” Thus in ter Brugghen‘s interpretation, Jesus stands at the far left, in shadow and in profile. St. Matthew – the one being “called” – sits near the center of the painting, pointing to himself with an expression of “Who? Me?”
Note also that ter Brugghen did other paintings on St. Matthew’s “calling,” including the one at the bottom of the page. (Immediately before the “notes” section.)
And finally, consider some of the things Isaac Asimov wrote about St. Matthew.
Asimov noted that Matthew’s name came from the Hebrew meaning “gift of God,” and that it was a common name in New Testament times. This was due in large part to “the great pride of the Jews in the achievements of priest Mattathias” (seen at left on the head of a Jewish coin at the time). Mattathias in turn was the “father of Judas Maccabeus and the heroic initiator of the revolt against the Seleucids.” (167-160 B.C.)
But there were also good reasons why this author – and any other Gospel writer – might try and remain anonymous. For one thing, such “holy books” were thought to carry a lot more weight – seem more “holy” – if the real authorship was “assigned to some ancient worthy:”
Indeed, there might be considered the very real force of the feeling that a truly holy book was inspired by God and that the worldly author acted only as a mouthpiece and deserved no credit. (Emphasis added.)
Then there was the “mundane” consideration of personal mayhem.
The time when the Gospels were written “was a hard one for Christians. Jewish hostility was pronounced and so was Roman hostility.” Christians at the time had vivid memories of Nero Persecuting the Christians, circa 64 A.D. Then there was the great Jewish Revolt. That revolt ran from 66 to 70 A.D. and turned out to be “one of the greatest catastrophes in Jewish life.” It ultimately resulted in the Destruction of Jerusalem. It also turned the Jewish people “from a major population in the Eastern Mediterranean into a scattered and persecuted minority” throughout the world. (See also Jewish diaspora – Wikipedia.)
The upshot was that the Jews who had revolted against Rome “were resentful, indeed, of Christian failure to join the rebellion.” Thus as Asimov noted, because of intense hostility from both Jews and Romans, “It might well be that a gospel writer preferred to remain anonymous out of considerations of personal safety.” The bottom line is that Matthew “witnessed” at a time when it was dangerous for him to do so. Thus as the Collect for Matthew’s Day says:
We thank you, heavenly Father, for the witness of your apostle and evangelist Matthew … and we pray that, after his example, we may with ready wills and hearts obey the calling of our Lord to follow him…
Another interpretation of Jesus “calling” Matthew…
The upper image is courtesy of Brugghen, Hendrick ter – The Calling of St. Matthew. As noted, the artist did different paintings on the same subject. See for example ter Brugghen, Calling of Saint Matthew | MuMa Le Havre, and The Calling of St. Matthew – Hendrick Terbrugghen – WikiArt.org, which provided the lower image immediately above the “notes” section.
Re: “Rally Day.” See Rally Day | Article about Rally Day by The Free Dictionary, which noted:
In liturgical Protestant churches, Rally Day marks the beginning of the church calendar year. It typically occurs at the end of September or the beginning of October. Although not all Protestant churches observe this day, the customs associated with it include giving Bibles to children, promoting children from one Sunday school grade to the next, welcoming new members into the church, and [presenting] church goals for the coming year.
Re: National Back to Church Sunday. See also – from 2012 – Over 10,000 Churches Commit to ‘National Back to Church Sunday,’ from the Christian Post, a “nondenominational, Evangelical Christian newspaper based in Washington, D.C.” The Post noted that since 2009, “National Back to Church Sunday has inspired churchgoers to invite more than 2.6 million family members, friends, neighbors and co-workers to their churches.”
The “does God exist” image is courtesy of www.stmscranton.org/qseekers.html, the website for St. Thomas More Catholic Parish in Scranton, Pennsylvania.
Re: “interactive.” See On Mary Magdalene, “Apostle to the Apostles:”
[That] just goes to show the importance of the interactive – if not the mystical – part of your walk toward Jesus. (Pursuant to John 6:37.) In the end there’s simply no way to prove the existence of either God or Jesus, with enough courtroom evidence o convince the most jaded of skeptics. In the end it all comes down to faith, and experience.
Re: Isaac Asimov. The quotes about St. Matthew are from Asimov’s Guide to the Bible (Two Volumes in One), Avenel Books (1981), at pages 771-72.
Asimov (1920-1992) was “an American author and professor of biochemistry at Boston University, best known for his works of science fiction and for his popular science books. Asimov was one of the most prolific writers of all time, having written or edited more than 500 books and an estimated 90,000 letters and postcards.” His list of books included those on “astronomy, mathematics, theBible, William Shakespeare’s writing, and chemistry.” He was a long-time member of Mensa, “albeit reluctantly; he described some members of that organization as ‘brain-proud and aggressive about their IQs.’” See also Isaac Asimov – Wikipedia.
Re: the Jewish Revolt of 66-70 A.D. See also Jewish–Roman wars – Wikipedia.
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And speaking of reviews, here’s a portion of the “Welcome” portion of “Matthew 2014:”
[T]his Bible-blog is different… It says that not only should we read the Bible with an open mind, but also that it was designed to liberate us, not shackle and shape us into some “pre-formed” spiritual straitjacket… That runs contrary to a common perception these days, that way too many Christians are way too focused on a “one size fits all” Faith, on pain of which those who don’t think just like they do – or belong to their particular “club” – are going to hell. For more on that topic and others like it see [The] Blog, which talks about how we can live fuller, richer lives of great spiritual abundance, and do greater miracles than even Jesus did, if only we open our minds…