A crafty guy

There is a famous painting by Caravaggio of the Calling of Matthew, the tax collector. Matthew is seen at a table with his friends and he has his hands round a heap of money he has just collected. There is a figure at the side calling him and one of his friends points to him, seemingly in astonishment as if to say, “What! Him?” The force of the picture comes through in the call to a most unlikely person to become a great apostle.

Pope Francis has the gospel words describing this scene as his motto, Miserando atque Eligendo (in compassion he chose him), “which was very true for me,” Francis says. The words come from Bede the Venerable who wrote, “Jesus saw a publican, and since he looked at him with feelings of love and chose him, he said to him, ‘Follow me.’” God looks at the person and whatever his life he sees something there and cuts though all the sinfulness and calls that person.

There is a baffling story in Luke about a steward who messes up his work and is about to be fired. Seeing the blow coming, he reduces the amounts his employer’s debtors owe so as to win their favour when he is out of a job. His master learns of the strategy and seems to commend him for his astuteness and we wonder what place a story like this has in the gospel.

One explanation could be that, as with the father of the prodigal son, it is simply saying God is free to act in whatever way he chooses. Another explanation is that, since stewards did not get paid but charged a commission, this steward decides to forego his commission and so he does not defraud his master but the debtors are now in debt to him! Crafty guy!

What I like about the story is the freedom of God. He sees something in the steward that we don’t see – just as he saw something in Matthew that Matthew’s friends did not see – and maybe just as God saw something in Francis that the pope’s fellow Jesuits did not see in his early years.

The references to Pope Francis above come from a recent interview. The interviewer began by asking him, “Who are you?” He replied: “I am a sinner.” This is who I am and I know it. That God could have called me, not just to become pope, but to all the lesser posts I have had since I first became a Jesuit and a priest is because of his mercy and compassion. I cannot explain it otherwise.

These are the words of someone who is really in touch with himself. There is no fear about how people will take this. There is no pretence. There is just the truth about himself as he knows it. God can work with such people. Just as he worked with Matthew and the crafty steward.

Post published in: Faith

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