Matthew, Apostle and Evangelist
Matthew was a tax-collector, a job that involved collecting taxes from his fellow countrymen. It was a despised occupation because the taxes supported the alien Roman rule and tax-collectors were therefore collaborators with the occupying power. Tax-collectors were also unpopular with the citizens because they often extorted more than the correct amount of money, and kept the difference for themselves. Moreover, it is very likely that, in return for bribes, they let off rich citizens from paying their proper share of the taxes. (1)
One day, as Matthew was sitting on duty in his tax booth, Jesus passed by and said, “Follow me”. Matthew got up and followed him (Matthew 9:9). In St Luke’s and St Mark’s Gospels he is known as Levi in the accounts of his calling (Luke 5:27-32; Mark 2:14-17). It seems that before his conversion he was known as Levi and afterwards as Matthew – perhaps a new name for the new man who had renounced his former life as a tax-collector. (2)
So Matthew became one of the 12 Apostles and, according to ecclesiastical tradition dating from the second century, he was the author of the first Gospel. According to the same tradition, Matthew wrote his Gospel in Palestine for Christians who had converted from the Jewish religion. These traditional data are confirmed by internal examination of Matthew’s Gospel. (3)
Various sources suggest that St Matthew was martyred in Ethiopia, or Persia or somewhere else, but there is no certainty about this. (4) His feast day is September 21st and the liturgical colour is red.
1. Bouquet, A.C. (1953) Everyday life in New Testament times, London: B.T. Batsford Ltd.
2. Butler, A. (1936) The lives of the Fathers, Martyrs and other principal Saints Vol III, London, Dublin and Belfast: Virtue and Company Limited.
3. Jones, A. (editor) (1966) ‘Introduction to the Synoptic Gospels’ in The Jerusalem Bible, London: Darton, Longman and Todd.
4. Attwater, D. (1965) The Penguin Dictionary of the Saints, Harmondsworth: Penguin Books.
A short talk for St Matthew’s Day, entitled Every Christian a missionary, is now available in this section of the Holy Faith website