Twenty-ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time
1) Ex 17:8-13
2) 2 Tm 3:14-4:2
Gospel: Lk 18:1-8
Some years ago, I visited the Church of San Luigi dei Francesi in Rome. There, three remarkable paintings by the Italian Baroque master Caravaggio can be seen in a single sacred space known as the Contarelli Chapel. The three chapel walls are covered with large baroque paintings that follow the dramatic life story of St. Matthew, one of the four evangelists who was a disciple of Jesus.
The central painting titled “The Inspiration of St. Matthew” shows the saint sitting at his writing desk as he turns to encounter a large guiding angel hovering nearby. The painting on the right depicts the martyrdom of Matthew who, like many of the apostles, was called to the ultimate sacrifice of his life for his faith in Jesus.
But it is the painting on the left that draws the crowds since it is among the most well-known of Caravaggio’s masterpieces. In this third work of unrivaled artistic genius, Caravaggio captures the dramatic moment when Matthew receives the call of Jesus who invites him to become his missionary disciple.
In that dramatic conversion moment, recounted in the ninth chapter of the Gospel of Matthew, we are told only that Jesus saw a man named Matthew sitting at his tax collector’s desk and said to him, “Follow me.” And Matthew got up and followed him.
Caravaggio paints Jesus stretching out his right hand in a gesture that parallels Michelangelo’s depiction of God reaching out to breathe life into Adam, painted on the Sistine Chapel ceiling. Jesus’ word is a life-giving word that transforms Matthew from a tax collector to a faithful apostle of the Lord. The profound and powerful word of Jesus conveyed the power of God’s grace to convert the mind and heart of Matthew for a life of discipleship.
Jesus in and through his word and sacrament continues to call each one of us to new life in him by the power of his divine word. Both the call and the grace to live as a disciple of Jesus are found in the powerful word of God.
In the second reading, St. Paul reminds us of the power of God’s word for the journey of life. “Remain faithful to what you have learned and believed … the sacred Scriptures, which are capable of giving you wisdom for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus,” writes the apostle.
Then Paul describes the power of God’s word when he says, “All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for refutation, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that one who belongs to God may be competent, equipped for every good work.”
In the Gospel, Jesus invites us to persevere in remaining close to him who is the word of God made flesh, as we read the Scriptures and let its wisdom transform our lives each day. Like the judge in the Gospel parable, Jesus attends to those who love his word and turn to him day and night. Let us resolve to persevere daily in the wisdom of God’s word as we pray, “speak to me, Lord.”
How do you experience the transformative power of the word of God each day?
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Sullivan is a professor at The Catholic University of America.