St. Matthew the Apostle

September 20, 1998

Brother John Raymond

The Internal Revenue Service is not the most liked department of our government by people. There is a long history of people not liking to be taxed. Now imagine if our country was taken over by another and that foreign power was taxing us. Wouldn’t that make taxes even more intolerable? Such was the situation of Israel in the time of Our Lord. The Romans were in charge and they were collecting taxes. And they were using Israelites to do it. These tax collectors where looked upon by their fellow Israelites as traitors for working for the Romans. They did business with the gentiles and handled their money. Thus, they were legally impure and socially outcast.

Matthew was one of these tax collectors. We should not picture Matthew going from door to door collecting taxes. He had his office in Capharnaum. The place naturally had its customhouse, since it lay on the road that leads from Damascus just where, at the northwest corner of Lake Galilee, that road passed from the territory of Herod Philip to the domains of his brother, Herod Antipas. Not customs only but road-tolls would be calculated and exacted here, according to a vague tariff that would leave a certain lucrative freedom to the customs officer himself.

Jesus chose Matthew to be an Apostle and later an evangelist. Matthew is mentioned by name five times in the New Testament. The most revealing of these passages is found in the Gospel of Matthew where he is called by Jesus to follow Him. (Matt. 9, 9-13) The other four times are the inclusion of his name in the list of the Apostles. (Luke 6, 15; Mark 3, 18; Matt. 10, 3 and Acts 1, 13) It would seem that the tax collector named Levi, as recorded in the Gospels of Mark and Luke is Matthew. (Mark 2, 14 and Luke 5, 27) One can conclude that Levi was the original name of the man who was subsequently called Matthew. The fact of one man having two names is of frequent occurrence among the Jews. Matthew, the son of Alpheus was a Galilean, although Eusebius, an ancient writer, informs us that he was a Syrian.

After the Ascension of Our Lord, we have mostly inaccurate or legendary data about Matthew. That he preached the gospel to the Jews in Palestine for perhaps fifteen years after the crucifixion is fairly sure. About the time of the persecution of Herod Agrippa I in 42 AD, he departed for other lands. St. Irenĉus tells us that Matthew preached the Gospel among the Hebrews. St. Clement of Alexandria claims that he did this for fifteen years. Ancient writers are not in agreement as to the countries evangelized by Matthew. Still almost all of them mention Ethiopia to the south of the Caspian Sea. Some say he went to Persia and the kingdom of the Parthians, Macedonia, and Syria. There is a disagreement as to the place of St. Matthew's martyrdom and the kind of torture inflicted on him.

St. Matthew composed his Gospel in his native Aramaic, the "Hebrew tongue." That Matthew wrote in Aramaic for converted Jews appears from authorities of the second and third centuries. Then it was translated into Greek.

In our times there may be a "Matthew" in our family. I mean that perhaps as parents we find our children and grandchildren in undesirable situations, marriages, etc. They are perhaps family outcasts, the proverbial black sheep of the family. Jesus as the Good Shepherd goes out of His way to bring back the straying sheep. He eats with sinners and tax collectors. Perhaps we too should go after the "straying sheep" in our families and bring them back to the fold with the help of Jesus.