Hated by those oppressed by the system and shunned by respectable religious people, what comfort does he have except the extortionate profit he makes? Even as he lets the coins fall to the ground his eyes can't yet let go of them. He's made a sudden life-changing decision and the body-language in this image seems to say "What have I done?" Will he pick up the coins and count them?
But the light is shining directly on him. And behind his head is a shape that could be a halo - for the Saint Matthew, one of the 12 apostles he is becoming. The 'halo' could be a symbol of the world. It reminds me that Matthew's gospel ends with the great commission of Jesus to go into all the world and make disciples of all peoples.
It's St Matthew's Day today. Here's his story from a modern paraphrase:
"Passing along, Jesus saw a man at his work collecting taxes. His name was Matthew. Jesus said, 'Come along with me'. Matthew stood up and followed him. Later when Jesus was eating supper at Matthew's house with his close followers, a lot of disreputable characters came and joined them. When the Pharisees saw him keeping this kind of company, they had a fit, and lit into Jesus' followers. 'What kind of example is this from your Teacher, acting cozy with crooks and riffraff?' Jesus, overhearing, shot back, 'Who needs a doctor; the healthy or the sick? Go figure out what this Scripture means: 'I'm after mercy, not religion.' I'm here to invite outsiders, not coddle insiders."
(Matthew 9: 9-13 from The Message by Eugene H. Peterson, 1993)
For a different reflection on this story see my earlier post 'Calling'.