Follow Me: The Feast of St. Matthew

Today’s art by Caravaggio says it all. When we view it, we might remember moments in our own lives that have signified God’s call.  What we know of Matthew is that he was working as a tax collector in Capernaum when Jesus approached him, summoning, “Follow me.”  Two simple words make for a powerful call to which each of should ideally respond every day. We celebrate the author of the first of the four Gospels in the New Testament today with sublime art, music and poetry for a saint called with two unforgettable words that, from the mouth of the Son of God, are capable of inspiring a rich mosaic of art.  After all, art is the response of the human being to a call that many name inspiration. The most enduring art is a response to longing, that is to say, to our soul’s inherent desire for God.  “Follow me,” said Jesus to Saint Matthew, a future writer, a Gospel author, who responded to the call. This, in turn, inspired the art of Caravaggio, the music of Bach and the poetry of Lawrence, each following in their own way, along a path trod through paint, notes and verse.

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St Matthew Passion - Matthäus-Passion BWV 244 | (Complete) (Full Concert) (J. S. Bach)

The Calling of St. Matthew - Caravaggio
The Calling of St. Matthew – Caravaggio

St. Matthew

They are not all beasts.
One is a man, for example, and one is a bird.

I, Matthew, am a man.

“And I, if I be lifted up, will draw all men unto me”–

That is Jesus.
But then Jesus was not quite a man.
He was the Son of Man
Filius Meus, O remorseless logic
Out of His own mouth.

I, Matthew, being a man
Cannot be lifted up, the Paraclete
To draw all men unto me,
Seeing I am on a par with all men.

I, on the other hand,
Am drawn to the Uplifted, as all men are drawn,
To the Son of Man
Filius Meus.

Wilt thou lift me up, Son of Man?
How my heart beats!
I am man.

I am man, and therefore my heart beats, and throws
the dark blood from side to side
All the time I am lifted up.

Yes, even during my uplifting.

And if it ceased?
If it ceased, I should be no longer man
As I am, if my heart in uplifting ceased to beat, to toss the
dark blood from side to side, causing my myriad secret
But that is another matter;
I am Matthew, the man,
And I am not that other angelic matter.

So I will be lifted up, Saviour,
But put me down again in time, Master,
Before my heart stops beating, and I become what I am not.
Put me down again on the earth, Jesus, on the brown soil
Where flowers sprout in the acrid humus, and fade into
humus again.
Where beasts drop their unlicked young, and pasture, and
drop their droppings among the turf.
Where the adder darts horizontal.
Down on the damp, unceasing ground, where my feet belong
And even my heart, Lord, forever, after all uplifting:
The crumbling, damp, fresh land, life horizontal and ceaseless.

Matthew I am, the man.
And I take the wings of the morning, to Thee, Crucified,
But while flowers club their petals at evening
And rabbits make pills among the short grass
And long snakes quickly glide into the dark hole in the
wall, hearing man approach,
I must be put down, Lord, in the afternoon,
And at evening I must leave off my wings of the spirit
As I leave off my braces
And I must resume my nakedness like a fish, sinking down
the dark reversion of night
Like a fish seeking the bottom, Jesus,
Face downwards
Veering slowly
Down between the steep slopes of darkness, fucus-dark,
seaweed-fringed valleys of the waters under the sea
Over the edge of the soundless cataract
Into the fathomless, bottomless pit
Where my soul falls in the last throes of bottomless convulsion,
and is fallen
Utterly beyond Thee, Dove of the Spirit;
Beyond everything, except itself.

Nay, Son of Man, I have been lifted up.
To Thee I rose like a rocket ending in mid-heaven.
But even Thou, Son of Man, canst not quaff out the dregs
of terrestrial manhood!
They fall back from Thee.

They fall back, and like a dripping of quicksilver taking the
downward track.
Break into drops, burn into drops of blood, and dropping,
dropping take wing
Membraned, blood-veined wings.

On fans of unsuspected tissue, like bats
They thread and thrill and flicker ever downward
To the dark zenith of Thine antipodes
Jesus Uplifted.

Bat-winged heart of man
Reversed flame
Shuddering a strange way down the bottomless pit
To the great depths of its reversed zenith.

Afterwards, afterwards
Morning comes, and I shake the dews of night from the
wings of my spirit
And mount like a lark, Beloved.

But remember, Saviour,
That my heart which like a lark at heaven’s gate singing,
hovers morning-bright to Thee,
Throws still the dark blood back and forth
In the avenues where the bat hangs sleeping, upside-down
And to me undeniable, Jesus.

Listen, Paraclete.
I can no more deny the bat-wings of my fathom-flickering
spirit of darkness
Than the wings of the Morning and Thee, Thou Glorified.

I am Matthew, the Man:
It is understood.
And Thou art Jesus, Son of Man
Drawing all men unto Thee, but bound to release them
when the hour strikes.

I have been, and I have returned.
I have mounted up on the wings of the morning, and I
have dredged down to the zenith’s reversal.
Which is my way, being man.
Gods may stay in mid-heaven, the Son of Man has climbed
to the Whitsun zenith,
But I, Matthew, being a man
Am a traveller back and forth.
So be it.

— D H Lawrence