The following paragraph is taken from the "Catholic Almanac"
A Galilean, called Levi by Luke and John and the son of Alphaeus by Mark, a tax collector, one of the Evangelists; according to various accounts, preached the Gospel in Judea, Ethiopia, Persia and Parthia, and was martyred; in art, is depicted with a spear, the instrument of his death, and as a winged man in his role as Evangelist; Sept. 21 (Roman Rite), Nov 16 (Byzantine Rite).
Listen to the homily taken from a Doctor of the Church, St Bede, the Venerable on a homily on St Matthew. This can also be found on the Calendar of the Saints on the Internet found at:
"Jesus saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax office, and he said to him: Follow me." Jesus saw Matthew, not merely in the usual sense, but more significantly with his merciful understanding of men."
He saw the tax collector and, because he saw him through the eyes of mercy and chose him, he said to him: "Follow me." This following meant imitating the pattern of his life - not just walking after him. Saint John tells us: "Whoever says he abides in Christ ought to walk in the same way in which he walked."
"And he rose and followed him." There is no reason for surprise that the tax collector abandoned earthly wealth as soon as the Lord commanded him. Nor should one be amazed that neglecting his wealth, he joined a band of men whose leader had, on Matthew's assessment, no riches at all. Our Lord summoned Matthew by speaking to him in words. By an invisible, interior impulse flooding his mind with the light of grace, he instructed him to walk in his footsteps. In this way Matthew could understand that Christ, who was summoning him away from earthly possessions, had incorruptible treasures of heaven in his gift.
- from a homily by Saint Bede the Venerable
The following links provides insight on St Matthew:http://www.catholic-forum.com/saints/golden276.htm
”Matthew” by Ronald D. Witherup, published by New City Press, in 2000, at the location of 202 Cardinal Rd, Hyde Park, NY. 12538, is an excellent resource. He lists 12 major themes listed below that St Matthew employs that can be used for reflection and prayer. This is the Mattean world of “The Gospel of the Kingdom”.
1-Prophecy and Fulfillment: God’s plan was foretold by the prophets and finds its fulfillment in Jesus.
2-God’s relationship to Jesus: God is a loving father whose primary desire is for mercy
and not sacrifice. Jesus is the faithful and obedient Son. Compared to St Mark, Matthew highlights the Father/Son relationship 40:2.
3-Emmanuel: Jesus is God-with-us who abides with his people forever down to the tiniest
remnant of faithful ones.
4-Jesus, the messiah: Jesus has the power in word and deed to heal people and bring them to salvation.
5-Universalism: Jesus brings salvation to all including the Gentiles.
6-Righteousness: God desires humans to live ethical upright lives for which they will be held accountable.
7-Final Judgment: A time of separating the good and bad accompanied much apocalyptic images about fire, weeping and gnashing of teeth.
8-Discipleship: Following Jesus is not easy and it will involve humility, suffering and rejection in Jesus’ ministry.
9-Faith and Doubt: Believing in Jesus often is accompanied by questions and doubts. Fear is the real enemy of faith.
10-Conversion: Encountering Jesus requires acknowledging one’s sinfulness and accepting God’s forgiveness and forgiving others.
11-Prayer: Prayer should be simple, regular, humble and heartfelt.
12-Evangelzation: Jesus sends his disciples into the world to baptize and make disciples proclaiming the gospel message.
The following is taken from Father Otto Hophan's book entitled "The Apostles" and listed in the sources on the website of the Doctors of the Catholic Church.com.
The feast of the apostle and evangelist Matthew is observed in the Roman Church on September 21. On this date, day and night are so evenly divided that in many parts of the world twelve hours are light and twelve hours are dark. This day has proved to be just as symbolic for Matthew as December 21 has proved to be for Thomas, the doubter, the companion and neighbor of the first evangelist. For this December day is the shortest day of the year, when the dark prevails over the light, when the sun sinks the earliest.
Glancing at the four scripture lists of the apostles, one notices that Matthew was placed right in the middle. He was the bridge between the first six and the last six apostles. The golden mean characterized his nature and his work, too.
Christian art has associated the symbol of a man with wings with this evangelist, because he began his Gospel with the genealogy of Jesus Christ. This symbol is very helpful in pointing out the nature of Matthew. He was a man who was just as human as the other apostles. He had his shortcomings; he was not perfect. Nevertheless, he was a man with wings for he raised himself up with the wings of his own good will, and with the more powerful wings of a strengthening grace, above his human weakness and human frailty.
Matthew, the Tax-Collector
Matthew-possibly from the Hebrew word "mattai," meaning "gift of God"-had a double name, Matthew Levi. Both Mark and Luke introduced this apostle in their Gospels as Levi. In his own Gospel this evangelist referred to himself simply as Matthew, the name by which he is known to Christians today.
Naturally the question was raised whether the Levi in Mark's and Luke's Gospels was the same person as the Matthew who wrote a passage concerning himself in the first Gospel. Nevertheless, if one compares these three passages with each other-Matt.9:9-13; Mark 2:13-17; Luke 5:27-32-and also the passages that immediately precede and follow the accounts of the apostle’s calling, he could no longer doubt that Matthew and Levi are two names for one and the same man. Not only is the frame the same, but so is the picture. All three accounts agree. Moreover, Matthew himself alluded to the fact that he was known by two names. When he recorded how he was called to the apostolate by Christ, he referred to himself as "a man named Matthew." But this hint becomes clear only if the Greek text is translated literally: "Matthaion legomenon"-
"the so called Matthew." In other words, his name was Levi, but he was surnamed Matthew, "mattai," the gift of God." Levi, the so-called Matthew!
St Jerome was fully aware of the difference between Mark's and Luke's account of this apostle’s name on the one hand and that of the first evangelist on the other hand. In his commentary of St. Matthew's Gospel he made the clever observation,
Out of honor and respect for Matthew the other evangelist did not want to name him by his commonly known name so they said "Levi." The apostle called himself "Matthew" and "tax-collector." By this he wanted to show he was converted to a better life. He himself had suddenly changed from a tax-collector to an apostle.
It is also conceivable that the first evangelist, after his conversion, preferred the significant name of Matthew-"gift of God"-to his other name of Levi. Today the name Levi connotes money and business. Levi was the tax-collector. Matthew was the apostle. Isodad of Merv, relying on an old Oriental tradition, reported that "this change of names (fully intentional) was made because the Lord wanted to take the Jewish prejudice away from Matthew, lest he be a swindler and enemy of God."
The evangelist Mark called Matthew Levi, "the son of Alphaeus." This has led many to assert that Matthew was the brother of the apostles James the Less, who also was the son of an Alpheus. St. John Chrysostom was of the opinion that these two apostles were not only brother, but also tax-collectors. Yet the Gospels give no basis for such a relationship, neither that of brother nor that of fellow-worker. It was only a coincidence that both their fathers happened to have the same name.
With Matthew, a real individual, a unique personality entered the group of apostles. He distinguished himself from the apostles who were called before him in that he was not an unknown fisherman but a tax-collector who held a position in his society and had money. The early life of this apostle was not recorded in the Gospels. Matthew entered the circle around our Lord quite suddenly and unannounced, but the accounts of his calling permit these a posteriori conclusions. It seems that Matthew was also older than the other apostles, for a position such as Matthew occupied demanded a long and arduous struggle.
Certainly Matthew, the first evangelist, had a better education than the other apostles. From this he can correctly be called "the most valuable of all the Twelve." His profession as a tax-collector presupposed a thorough apprenticeship. He had to learn to write, to read, and, what was so dull, to count, to add, to subtract, to multiply, and to divide. There were figures and calculations, many figures, figures first and last, before and after all, and almost nothing else but figures. Later he had to run the money-tables. He had to know prices and rates and charges, the price of grain and oil, the value of the fish which the sons of Zebedee brought to him, the worth of pearls that our Lord Himself mentioned in the Gospels.
At the time when the young Peter and Andrew, James and John, with their fathers, John and Zebedee, were casting off into the sea, under sun and storm, the old Alpheus was sending his young son to a schoolroom where he studied among books and papers. There Levi learned how to be shrewd and clever, or, as the saying goes, to be "fit for life." And actually Matthew was much more cultivated than the staunch and hard-working fishermen on the sea. Their trade brought them comfort and well-being, but Matthew's business could raise him much higher, lead him to wealth and riches.
Matthew owned two houses when he made his appearance in the Gospels. There was his office with the commercial firms outside the city, "the tax-collector's place." And he had a private home inside Capharnaum, a large villa that was very spacious. It was so big and roomy that when invited for the Lord and others to enter, he "gave a great feast for him at his house; and there was a great gathering of publicans and of others, who were at the table with them." No poor man with a small house could have done this.
"A great gathering of publicans and of others!" Matthew maintained many and influential social contacts. In this respect also he differed much from the other apostles. Regularly he came to the princely court in Tiberias to settle his accounts with Herod, the ruler of the land. There he learned politics, the "inside stories," plots and schemes, scandals. Many a high and mighty lord in need of some "quick cash" he rescued from social embarrassment. They were indebted to him; he controlled their bows and smiles of thanks like puppets on strings. But what did Peter or John or Philip know about this "better business"? Matthew knew only too well. Even the most lordly of lords would dance his dance before him for money.
Certainly the gloomy chapter in the life of Matthew began when he became a tax-collector. Only God knows how he came to this infamous profession. Perhaps he took it up at the wish or command of his father; maybe a friend interested him in trying it out. It might have been his own idea-perchance it was his craving for money. In order to give a true and just explanation of this disreputable profession of collecting taxes, one must first remember its very questionable existence. It is necessary to consider all the information. Only then can one evaluate the nobility of Matthew the tax-collector.
In the Roman Empire taxes were not collected directly from wages, nor was there a state official or comptroller to oversee the levy. Rather the state leased its tax rights to the highest bidder. Therefore, the lessee had to assess a high rate of tax in his area if he did not want to come out in the red.
Often the price, especially for a large district, was so great that an individual could not assume the responsibility alone. A number of these bidders, therefore, quite frequently united and formed companies. Many of these, in the Roman Empire, belonged to wealthy brotherhoods of knights. They divided up their provinces into smaller districts and sublet their purchased rights to their tax-collectors, or publicans. Matthew was one of these smaller collectors. They also were forced to pay high prices still higher taxes from the poor laboring man. It was not a vicious circle, for it ended with the working class, upon whom it lay like a crushing burden.
It is understandable how such a system, which did relieve the government of many troubles and headaches, opened the door to many abuses. Certainly there existed duties and taxes and tariffs fixed by the State, but these were not nearly enough to eliminate the avarice, fraud, and extortion of the collectors. In fact, such vices were accepted behavior among tax-collectors.
Therefore the voice of the people against these tax-collectors and publicans was very bitter and severe. They were esteemed as "the bears and wolves of human society." To say "tax-collector" was to say "thief." Cicero maintained that the grave dissatisfaction of the people arose, not from the public act of imperial taxation as such, but from the manner in which these taxes were levied. He named the tax-collector's profession the worst of all possible trades. And to this profession Matthew Levi had dedicated himself.
The Jews considered the occupation of a tax-collector an outrageous disgrace. For the pagan Roman authorities, for this hated force occupying Jewish territory, the publicans collected taxes! A Jew was impoverishing other Jews, and for foreigners, for pagan foreigners, at that! That was not only deception and robbery, but also a crime against their homeland and their religion. A conscientious Jew asked himself the question whether it was permissible for him even to pay a tax to the emperor. And then these wretched collectors came along, these traitorous "collaborateurs"-as they would have been called, borrowing an expression from the stock of words used during and after the World Wars-and out of greed they dared to exact a tribute from the chosen race of God!
The Talmud did not conceal the Jewish disdain and contempt for the tax-collector. In lawsuits these collectors could act neither as judges nor as witnesses. Their families were avoided, had poor reputations, were considered without honor. No Jewish young man, if he were loyal, would think of taking the daughter of a publican to wife. It was even forbidden to receive alms from one of these despised officials, or to change money through him. A good Jew would not defile himself with such scandalously earned money. The Jews might even have doubted whether a tax-collector or a publican were really serious, whether he did not really regret what he was doing, and by that fact alone was capable of salvation.
So the tax-collectors were excluded from civil as well as from religious society, as least de facto, if not de jure. They were named in one breath along with murderers, assassins, thieves, robbers, criminals, and harlots. Everything was charged against them. It was not wrong to deceive them, swindle them, rob them. That was only a just revenge in return for their unjust oppression of the people.
In the Gospels this scorn of the Jews for the publicans and tax-collectors was made quite evident. When Christ was speaking of fraternal correction, He said, "'And if he (one's brother) refuse to hear them (witnesses), appeal to the Church, but he refuse to hear even the Church, let him be to thee as the heathen and the publican.'" When speaking to the Pharisees in the parable of the two sons, He said, "'Amen I say to you, the publicans and harlots are entering the kingdom of God before you.'" John the Baptist who was prompted to admonish the publicans very bluntly when they came to him, "'Exact no more than what has been appointed you. '"
Even after realizing all this, one can still understand how Matthew Levi can be exonerated. He was not salaried by the pagan Romans. At the time of our Lord their basic sovereignty practiced in Capharnaum, which seems to have been his home. Occupying the tax-collector's position there, he was therefore subject to the tetrarch of Galilee, Herod. But this was the Herod whom the Jews rejected as an intruder despite all his flattery. He was the Herod who played the abominable role in the New Testament as an adulterer, murderer of John the Baptist, and judge of Christ on Good Friday. Was Matthew not many times inwardly disgusted when he sat together with this criminal to settle his accounts, when this insolent and lewd imbecile grinned and winked his lascivious and red-with-wine eyes while asking for a fatter purse the next time?
Had also Matthew, the tax-collector, fouled and dirtied himself with those unjust gains?
The Gospels offer no explicit information here. Matthew did not make that betraying and fatal protest-to excuse oneself is often to accuse oneself-that his colleague, Zacchaeus, a leading publican in Jericho, offered to the Lord: "Behold, Lord, I give one-half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.'" Matthew was also a deeply religious man. The Gospel which he was to write later is full of citations from the Old Testament. He had a deep belief and a great trust in the word of God. Nevertheless, it was very difficult for him, so fully engrossed in his endangering profession and surrounded by so many evil examples, to keep himself completely spotless and without fault.
The beautiful words of the Lord at the feast in the house of Matthew concerned the sick who need a physician. They appear to have been spoken also for the benefit of this public servant who had just been called to follow Christ. Commenting on the First Gospel, St John Chrysostom did not hesitate to take for granted that "the service at the table at that banquet was obtained by injustice and avarice."
Yet, whatever Matthew's secret feelings may have been, the people did not make any careful distinction. He was still a tax-collector like all other tax-collectors. He was a swindler, a thief, a traitor. His profession was held in such ill repute that the evangelist Mark and Luke were indulgently silent about his earlier occupation when they listed him with the other apostles. And when they had to mention his name when relating the account of his calling, they attempted to cover up for him by using the name of Levi instead of Matthew.
Without a doubt, the apostle Matthew had to suffer for his public position. Possible there were evenings when he returned home with his pockets full and sat with his head in his hands while, breathing heavily, he thought over the events of the day. He could still see the hostile glances of the people, and their clenched fist. He could still hear the dirty money hit the street when it was thrown to him as they would throw garbage to a hungry dog. Of what use was all this money to him, if his own people outlawed him? He heard a voice coming from the depths of his soul, and later he recorded those words: "'For what does it profit a man, if he gains the whole world, but suffer the loss of his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?'" His soul! Did Levi weep then?
If only he could begin anew! How satisfied he would have been with a poor boat, a clear conscience-he, the poor rich man! But is there a bond more difficult to break than the clutch of wealth? Yet there was One who was soon to call him away from his life as tax-collector and criminal once and for all.
He was to be banned from all "lawful reckoning" in the company of his friends and companions, for whom business transactions and money were important in a real but secondary way, as a means to the primary source of all wealth, the wealth of the beatific vision and happiness in heaven. It was impossible for him to escape. His yearning soul fluttered like a bird with clipped wings in a cage. If only his good will would grow other wings which could lift him out of himself, over his old self, to the new and splendid heights above the old riches of the earth!
In those last months in the tax-collector's place, the gathering place for all gossip and rumors, the people had been speaking more and more frequently of a new prophet, Jesus of Nazareth. Had he understood correctly?
And his fame spread into all Syria; and they brought to him all the sick suffering from various diseases and torments, those possessed, and lunatics, and paralytics; and he cured them. And there followed him large crowds from Galilee and Decapolis and Jerusalem and Judea, and from beyond the Jordan.
For several weeks, then, this new and renowned prophet had been residing in Capharnaum. He had spoken with the fisherman, Simon-the Son of John-and then He left again. A few days before it had happened-and Matthew could not forget it-that this Jesus, with a large following, passed by the place of the tax-collector. How had it all come about? Matthew never could fully explain it, but suddenly Jesus and Levi were standing next to each other, face to face, just for a second. Now Matthew knew why the crowd was following Him. His eyes had pierced the depths of the tax-collector's soul as a ray of the sun penetrates the dust-filled air of a gloomy room. The glance of the Messias had fallen upon him; like the sun, it was bright and magnificent. Matthew considered. For one brief moment he was ready to follow Him. But no!
No! Matthew knew what the prophets and theologians thought about him, the publican-what they had to think. Then suddenly he heard what he could not believe, what he wanted to hear, what he had thought was impossible for him ever to hear. The trained ear of Matthew, the shrewd collector, could tell, even from a distance and in a noisy crowd, who was coming by His step, or who was speaking by His voice. It was God, the prophet! The quiet Levi began to tremble. He made a mistake. Then Jesus came nearer and stopped before him, looked at him and spoke to him. He spoke only two words. but these two words changed the whole world for Matthew: "'Follow me.'"
Later Matthew included in his Gospel two quotations from the prophet Isaias concerning the works of Jesus. These selections demonstrate the objectivity which is so characteristic of the first evangelist's Gospel. He usually held back his own personal knowledge and experience of the greatness of God, but this was not completely concealed, for its echo can be heard in his quotations from Isaias: "' The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light; And upon those who sat in the region and shadow of death, a light has arisen.'" And, "' He himself took up our infirmities, and bore the burden of our ills.'" Was the evangelist thinking of himself here?
That this description of the soul, mind, and heart of the tax-collector before his calling is more than mere supposition and conjecture, the apostle himself showed by his account of his call: "Now as Jesus passed on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting in the tax-collector's place, and said to him, 'Follow me.' And he arose and followed him." With a jerk he knocked back his chair, to which he had been nailed fast for years, and shoved the drawer of the money-chest shut with such a bang that the whole till clinked and clanked and clattered, and all the weighty papers that lay before him were quickly rumpled and crumpled by his trembling hand. Matthew was excited. He "followed Him"-he, the rich, tax-collector who had been living in luxury and abundance, followed Him, who had nothing, Him, who had "nowhere to lay his head." A man, even a man as old as Matthew and with his experience, would not have behaved so if he had thought that this call to a new life was not a true salvation, a source of real happiness.
It must have been a great torture that filled his publican's soul and prepared him for the grace that was given him. St John Chrysostom remarked about the grace that the Holy Spirit, wisely and patiently awaiting the right hour, gave him:
Christ called Matthew when He knew that he would come. Therefore, He did not call him immediately in the beginning, when his heart was still somewhat difficult to approach, but after He had worked a number of miracles, and His fame was widespread, and when He knew he was inclined to obey.
This auspicious flight from money to the Gospels, this fortunate conversion of the tax-collector into a disciple, filled Matthew with such joy that he prepared a big banquet to celebrate his departure from his old way of life. He himself concealed the fact that there was a joyous occasion for this useful prodigality. But St. Luke did not hide it: "And Levi gave a great feast for him at his home; and there was a great gathering of publicans and of others, who were at the table with them."
Neither Peter nor Andrew, nor the sons of Zebedee, nor Philip nor Bartholomew had begun their new life with such festivities as those with which Matthew began his. They simply were not able to do it. Not even at the wedding feast of Cana was there such an all-out celebration as there was at Matthew's banquet. At the table in the house of Levi, where the multitude of Levi's colleagues had gathered, Christ was not called upon to work a miracle and produce more wine, as happened at Cana. The poor had gathered at the wedding feast, the rich publicans and tax-collectors were not there. At the banquet of Matthew the rich had gathered, but Christ also was there. For God nothing is ever too much; there is never a sinful waste. This was divine prodigality; it was as generously extravagant as Mary Magdalene's precious ointments. Only a Judas would complain.
As he partook of the feast, Matthew's heart was overflowing with joy. The Lord had rescued and freed him from money. Now he could be poor with God and rich with God! Only the divine hand can free a man, even a man of good will, from the bonds of wealth's slavery and give him wings to soar to the heights of God. In the portrait of Matthew painted by Rubens, the apostle is pictured as a poor soul in purgatory being taken up to paradise by an angel. The torments and tortures of purgatory for Matthew were the months he spent collecting taxes, but the hand of God mercifully lifted him up to the paradise of an evangelical life.
It is extraordinary that in the college of apostles it was not Matthew, the experienced businessman, who handled the money-purse. Indeed, he was only too glad to stay away from money. This task fell to Judas. Both apostles had dealt with money, but what different ways they traveled! Matthew abandoned his money to follow the Lord: Judas betrayed the Lord to win money, all of thirty pieces of silver. Of the four evangelists, Matthew alone carefully noted how many pieces Judas was paid.
With greater emphasis than was used in the other three Gospels, the first Gospel stressed how money became the down-fall of Judas. From the accursed transaction until the hour in which the sanctimonious hypocrites who posed as priest took up the unclaimed and ownerless purse from the temple floor to buy a burial place for strangers, Matthew kept recorded of the whereabouts of those thirty pieces of silver. Had he, the former tax-collector, foreseen the outcome? With the anxiety and concern of a man who knew the curse of money, he may have observed Judas' inclination to money. He may have spoken very seriously to him and warned him about this.
Unlike St. John, Matthew wrote about Judas without becoming passionately enraged. He could understand Judas even better than could the disciple of love, and was able to feel sorry for him. When looking at the apostle who betrayed the Master, he may have shuddered at the thought of what his own fate would have been had not the mercy of the Lord ransomed and rescued him. Certainly Matthew was only too glad to grasp the outstretched hand of Jesus.
In the Gospel according to St. Matthew there is a fuller account also of the use of, and necessity for, money than in the other three Gospels of the New Testament. Money is good only when it is put to a good use, when it is at the disposal of love and, what is more important, justice. The words of our Lord concerning money must have made a very deep impression on Matthew. Later the evangelist recorded these words:
"But when thou givest alms, do not let they left hand know, what thy right hand is doing, so that thy alms may be given in secret; and thy Father, who sees in secret, will reward thee... Do not lay up for yourselves on earth, where rust and moth consume, and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither rust nor moth consumes, nor thieves break in and steal. For where thy treasure is, there thy heart also will be... You cannot serve God and mammon."
The calling of this apostle certainly had another side to it, the Lord's side. His call was a gross insult, socially speaking-an unheard of provocation to all "better" circles. Jesus heroically took upon Himself a hazardous enterprise when He called this publican. None other of all His disciples, not even Judas, humanly speaking, was so unbearable as Matthew. The other followers may have been painfully perplexed and confused when their Master asked this tax-collector to walk side by side with them. After all, they were respectable people from good and honest families.
The Scribes were not able to contain their shock and astonishment. Immediately before this, they had been irritated and vexed in Capharnaum when Jesus absolved a paralytic from his sins. " 'Why does this man speak thus? He blasphemes. Who can forgive sins, but God only?'" And how He dared to accept a publican and sinner into His small circle. Christ neither feared nor hesitated even to sit at the same table with a whole group of them. All the tax-collectors from the surrounding areas cautiously crawled out of their corners and crouched in the presence of the light of the miracle of grace as wounded animals creep from their shelters and cringe in the face of the light of the sun of day. In Matthew's vocation they all felt called and dignified.
"And the Pharisees and their Scribes were grumbling, saying to his disciples, 'Why do you eat and drink with publicans and sinners?'" The answer of Jesus was so essential and beautiful that all three Synoptics wrote it down: "' It is not the healthy who need a physician, but they who are sick. For I have come to call sinners, not the just.'" But St Matthew alone here noted a further remark: "'But go, and learn what this means: I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.'"
These few words became the overture to the works of Jesus, the primary source of accord throughout the four Gospels when read as one book. They anticipated the magnificent fifteenth chapter in St. Luke's Gospel, the trilogy of divine mercy, which appropriately has been named the heart of the third Gospel. These three short parables say everything to everyone. They expressed to the Pharisees and Scribes Jesus' vindication and His rejection of their ideas. They expressed to the tax-collectors and publicans His advice for, not His sanction of, their lives. They expressed to the apostles and disciples His supreme legislation for their apostolic labor.
The calling of the tax-collector, Matthew Levi, has therefore a universal importance and significance based on principle. The spirit of the Gospels becomes quite evident in it. This apostles became a brilliant example of divine mercy for "the publicans and sinners" of all ages. He was called to be the ray of hope for all who might be tempted to doubt or despair because they have gone so far astray; for the Messias came to help especially all sinners, the sick. After every sin that is committed, there is also the mercy of God, besides the justice of God, that is inflamed; even if the sinner does not want it and refused it, or has blinded himself to it, God puts it at the sinner's disposal.
Many months after Levi's calling, Jesus compared the Pharisee and publican:
"Two men went up to the temple to pray, the one a pharisee and the other a publican. The Pharisee stood and began to pray thus within himself: 'O God, I thank thee that I am not like the rest of men, robbers, dishonest, adulterers, or even like this publican. I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I posses. " But the publican, standing afar off, would not so much as lift up his eyes to heaven, but kept striking his breast, say, 'O God, be merciful to me the sinner!
Was the Lord thinking of Matthew when he made this comparison? And what did Matthew think when he heard the Lord say this? He wept, and his heart swore that he was not worthy of such mercy.
After Matthew's calling, the Gospels mention this apostle only once. This was not many weeks after the call, when Christ appointed and commissioned the Twelve. The publican was at that time one of the few chosen as an apostle, not merely as a disciple, one among hundreds of followers. He was one of the Twelve Jesus chose "that they might be with him and that he might send them forth to preach. To them he gave power to cure sicknesses and to cast out devils."
St. Matthew recorded a fuller account in his Gospel than the other evangelists of our Lord's discourse to His apostles before their first mission: "'And as you go, preach the message, "The kingdom of heaven is at hand!" Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out devils.'" Then he wrote down a sentence that only he, the tax-collector, took the trouble to record: "'Freely you have received , freely give.'" Knowing Levi, who can keep from smiling when reading this? "Freely you have received..." And only Matthew, the former Levi, continued so meticulously, "'Do not keep gold, or silver, or money in your girdles, no wallet for your journey, nor two tunics, nor sandals, nor staff; for the laborer deserves his living.'"
"The laborer deserves his living!" 'What did the poor in the surrounding areas think when Levi, known only too well as the sly fox, entered their houses as a holy apostle with the greeting, "Peace be to this house"-he who earlier had been guilty of causing so much pain and hardship and anger over abominable money? And yet it must be admitted that Matthew humbly accepted this apostolic trial. Ironically, it was his experience as a tax-collector that taught him his tact and understanding of people. No less than the trade of a fisherman was his profession a necessary preparation for his apostolate.
If one reads, compares, and mediates on the lists of apostles, it will occur to him that Matthew was one of the few apostles who stood alone and apart from all the others. With the exception of Thomas, Judas, and Matthew, all the Twelve were bound together through an alliance or friendly relation. Did the Lord, therefore, perhaps place the quiet Matthew and the oppressed Thomas side by side so that they could be for each other comrades and neighbors? Both Mark and Luke named Matthew before Thomas when they listed the apostles in their Gospels. But in the first Gospel, Matthew assigned himself the position immediately after Thomas.
In the Acts of the Apostles there was recorded no further information about the apostle Matthew's life, and tradition has passed down only a few isolated and inaccurate facts. Certainly this is an indication that for many years after the Lord's Resurrection he remained with the other apostles to work among his own people, the Jews. How long this went on cannot be exactly determined from the account of Eusebius. Clement of Alexandria thought it was fifteen years.
It was also Clement of Alexandria who related that the apostle Matthew led a severely ascetic life by partaking neither of meat nor of vegetables, but only of grains. But perhaps here the Church Father confused the apostle Matthew with the apostle Matthias-it is not uncommon even today to hear these two names being used interchangeably-for the latter, according to the testimony of Eusebius, supposedly preached perpetual abstinence from meat. Still, if Matthew, the happy host and entertainer, had been such a strict ascetic, would he so unembarrassed have recorded the words of the Lords: "'What goes into the mouth does not defile a man; but that which comes out of the mouth, that defiles a man'"?
Concerning the land of the apostolic labors of Matthew, the many and various apocryphal Acts present confused and inconsistent accounts. Older traditions named Arabia, Persia, and especially Ethiopia-also called Abyssinia-as the missionary field of this apostle, a tradition which the Roman Breviary appropriated for the feast day of the apostle. Traditions originating in more recent centuries had him working among the Parthians, and also the Macedonians. In the "Acts of Andrew" Pontus was named as his place where Matthew labored together with Andrew; there it is recorded that Andrew saved Matthew from the cannibals who wanted to consume him.
The way in which he died is also a matter for conjecture. According to a remark made by Heracleon, a Gnostic, in the middle of the second century, Matthew did not want to stand "before the judges to testify." This opinion implies that he did not want to suffer martyrdom but wanted to die a natural death, as did the apostles Philip and Thomas; Clement of Alexandria also held with this tradition, and passed it on. Other legends on the contrary, explained-often with verbose descriptions which did not easily lend themselves to quotation or memorization-that Matthew was stoned or burned to death. But the most repeated legend maintained he was beheaded.
The Roman Breviary borrowed from the apparently more recent passio Matthaei, a detailed record of the Ethiopic legends concerning Matthew. In this account the apostle was reported to have converted the royal family and the entire district under its rule by working the miracle of raising Iphigenia, the daughter of King Aeglippus, from the dead. Nevertheless, Hirtacus, the brother and neighbor of the converted king, had Matthew killed by the sword because the apostle had opposed his intention to marry Iphigenia, his niece.
The remains of Matthew supposedly were taken from Ethiopia first to Paestum, an Italian village on the gulf of Salerno, and in the tenth century to Salerno itself, where they are honored today.
Knowledge of the latter life of the apostle Matthew is as insufficient as his Gospel, which he wrote for all ages, is important. It was this work which made him an important apostle-after Peter and John, the most important of all the Twelve. Renan has called Matthew's Gospel "the most important book of universal history."
The profession and natural ability of this publican, this man of the writing-table, enabled and disposed him to comprehend and record in his Gospel the events of Christ's life. He was especially eager to take note of and remember the inspiring teachings of Christ, and he performed this service for the Lord thankfully and gladly. In this the mystery of his calling can be seen in a new light: Matthew, the publican, recorded worthily and exactly the words and deeds which he had seen and heard; he was called to become the patron and living example of that was permitted to write according to Divine Providence about our Lord Jesus Christ.
Matthew, the Evangelist
The Gospel according to St. Matthew was explicitly referred to by Papias around the year 110: "Matthew collected in the Hebrew language (Aramaic) the discourses (ta logia) of the Lord. He translated (ermeneusen) them as well as he could." To testimony Irenaeus added his own: "Matthew put forth a Gospel among the Jews in their own language, as Peter and Paul (orally) preached the good tidings (Gospel) in Rome and established the Church."
An interesting oddity was mentioned by Pantaenus, the headmaster and teacher of the Catechetical School of Alexandria, who around the year 200, traveled to "India," that is, to Arabia, or the southern part of the present-day Arabia: "The Gospel of the evangelist Matthew, written in the language of the Hebrews was brought to them (the "Indians") by the apostle Bartholomew." The apostolic collaboration between Matthew in Ethiopia and Bartholomew in the sections of India adjacent to Ethiopia (as was mentioned in the chapter on Bartholomew) was also noted in Ethiopic legends concerning Matthew. Origen, one of the very learned Fathers of the Church, noted the traditions concerning Matthew's Gospel:
From the tradition concerning the four Gospels, which alone were recognized without discussion by the whole Church of God, I have come to learn that the first Gospel was written by Matthew, the former tax-collector and later the apostle of Jesus Christ. He composed it in the language of the Hebrews for the Jews converted to the Faith.
The Fathers of the Church were one in testifying to the fact that Matthew was the first of all the four evangelists to write down the Gospel. The exact year in which he did this cannot be ascertained, but certainly it was completed before the year 70, the year which saw the destruction of Jerusalem and the dispersion of the Jewish people into the wide world. An old tradition from the East asserted, "Matthew wrote his Gospel during the reign of Emperor Claudius, in the year 42, nine years after the Ascension of the Lord."
The previously mentioned testimony of Papias-"Matthew wrote down the discourses of the Lord"-was interpreted by advocates of rationalism as a mere "collection of sayings" which differed from what we know and accept today as Matthew's Gospel. But it is not difficult to show how wrong this is, for the Greek expression, ta logia, signified discourses as well as deeds, according to the use of the word prevalent at the time of the Church historian. Papias himself, for example, at one time referred to the contents of Matthew's Gospel as "the discourses and deeds of the Lord," and at another time, however, only as logia. For Papias logia also meant "Gospel."
Actually all of Christian antiquity knew nothing of a "collection of sayings" of Matthew which was different from the Gospel we have today. Both Irenaeus and Eusebius explicitly and without hesitation confirmed that Papias was speaking of the first Gospel as we know it today. And it is also justifiable from the contents to call Matthew's Gospel logia-discourses, speeches, or thoughts of the Lord-because of all three Gospels of the Synoptics, it is Matthew's which is composed mostly of the words of Christ. Frequently this evangelist abbreviated or even passed over the words of Jesus in order to include more of His actual words while teaching.
The original text of St. Matthew's Gospel, written in his native Aramaic-the "Hebrew tongue"-was lost very early. This is easy to understand, for over those Jewish-Christian communities for which Matthew wrote his Gospel, storms of the Jewish War and then of the false teachers were soon raging. It is tragic that Christianity in the evangelist's own homeland never developed beyond that first short spring.
The first Gospel, however, did live on, though gradually it was falsified by legends. In the fifth century it had developed into the so-called "Hebrew Gospel"-also called the "Nazarene Gospel"-which St. Jerome, the great scholar of the Bible (d.419 or 420), was able to examine in two copies.
On the other hand, Matthew's Gospel had the good fortune to have an excellent, first-rate Greek translator. Skillfully he recast the Aramaic original into an elegant Greek version. This translation was made before the turn of the first century, for traces of it can be found in the works of the Church Fathers written before the end of the first century. The Greek translator of Matthew's original Aramaic text-"Who it was cannot be established," remarked Jerome-could also have examined in the sixties the original Greek texts of the Gospels of Mark and Luke. It may have been that when he translated the parts of Matthew's Gospel which are common to the other Synoptics, he consulted these two texts. Certain linguistic peculiarities characteristic of the Greek version of Matthew's Gospel show a dependence on the style of Mark's Gospel.
The Biblical Commission of Rome, on June 19, 1911, gave the explanation that the Greek translation "substantially" agreed with the Aramaic original. This conviction was held by all the writers of Christian antiquity. Without exception the oldest manuscripts of the Bible and all the old translations of the Bible attributed the first Gospel as we know it today to the evangelist Matthew. Other favorable testimony can be found in such sources as the "Didache"-the "Teachings of the Twelve Apostles"-composed around the year 100. There are also the writings of the Fathers of the Church: Clement of Rome, who wrote about the year 95; Ignatius of Antioch, who died in 107; Polycarp, martyred around the year 156; and above all, Justin, apologist and martyr. These have written comments on and allusions to the first Gospel, and together they form a mosaic that shows the truly great respect for the first Gospel that existed even in the first years after apostolic times.
The Gospel of St. Matthew, meanwhile, answers for itself. If one opens this book, even if only to the first page, he immediately meets the tax-collector, Matthew. The humble manner in which the first Gospel speaks of this apostle betrays him as its author. The minute details and exact knowledge of the geographical, historical, political, and religious conditions and circumstances of the Chosen Land at the time of the Lord, as well as the thorough knowledge of the Sacred Writings of the Old Testament, show unequivocally that the writer was a Jewish Christian contemporary of Jesus.
The life of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew was portrayed plainly and soberly, often without a detailed sketch of the place and time of an incident. At times it was written without a vivid description of the surrounding circumstances, without any interesting peculiarities. St Mark wrote intuitively, with great temperament and spirit. St Luke was intimate and cordial when he took up his pen.
To illustrate this, one can compare the accounts of Matthew and Mark concerning the raising of Jairus' daughter from the dead. Without color, Matthew wrote:
As he was saying this to them, behold, a ruler came up and worshipped him, saying, "My daughter has just now died; but come and lay thy hand upon her, and she will return to life." And Jesus arose and followed him, and so did his disciples.
In describing this same event, about which Matthew recorded only the essentials, Mark wrote with more precise details:
And when Jesus had again crossed over in the boat to the other side, a great crowd gathered together to him; and he was by the sea. And there came one of the rulers of the synagogue named Jairus. And seeing Jesus, he fell at his feet, and entreated him much saying, "My daughter is at the point of death; come, lay thy hands upon her, that she may be saved and live." and he went away with him, and a great crown was following him and pressing upon him.
A comparison of Matthew's and Mark's accounts of the desertion of the disciples on the Olives also shows the difference between them. Matthew wrote simple, "Then all the disciples left him and fled." But Mark added more:
Then all his disciples left him and fled. And a certain young man was following him, having a linen cloth wrapped about his naked body, and they seized him. But leaving the linen cloth behind, he fled away from them naked.
Because of this impersonal style, the first Gospel has been suspected of rationalism. It has been said that an eyewitness of the events would certainly have composed his account more vividly. Yet, is not this objectivity itself an indirect and internal proof of the authenticity of the first Gospel? Not every author of Scripture-we must thank the Holy Spirit for this!-wrote in the same style and with an identical vocabulary. The grace of divine inspiration was not a word-for-word revelation, though there are a few who would not agree with this. God relied on the human individualities of His authors to complete and formulate with human words His inspirations. So Matthew wrote as Matthew.
It is Matthew's personality and individuality that shows between the lines of the first Gospel. This apostle had been a tax-collector, a sober realist. His life had been filled with calculations and computations, accounts and bills. Who does not know that men of mathematics and finances restrict themselves to, and are satisfied with, a strict adherence to fundamentals and essentials, to objectivity and practicality, that such men seldom permit their imaginations to appear? It is precisely this lack of imagination in the first Gospel that points to Matthew as the author. While writing down the accounts in his Gospel, St. Matthew was wont to forget many of the merely embellishing details. At times he shortened his descriptions so much that they sometimes became almost meaningless. It is for this very reason, however, that his Gospel is so impressive: it is solemn. It has the austere quality of a Byzantine portrait, the stern sound of a liturgical hymn. This was St. Matthew, the tax-collector, the apostle, the inspired author, writing his Gospel.
So much did Matthew suppress in his Gospel everything that was personal that a reading of his writings can teach us almost nothing positive about his life as a financier.
The acquaintance, however, with matters concerning money and business, which is quite evident in the fist Gospel, betrays the author of the first book of the New Testament against his will. Just as the detailed statements about health and sickness, known only to a physician, reveals the true St. Luke, so do the frequent and detailed remarks about money show the real Matthew. These particular instructions of Jesus remained especially vivid in the thoughts of the former tax-collector.
In no less than twelve passage of his Gospel Matthew wrote about money and coins. John wrote about this but twice. The sober tax-collector and the beloved eagle! Even in his description of the crib of the Child Jesus in Bethlehem, St. Matthew mentioned "gold." He was the only evangelist who recorded the miraculous finding and payment of the temple tax for Christ and Peter. Only Matthew wrote down the parable of "a treasure hidden in a field" and "'a merchant in search of fine pearls. When he finds a single pearl of great price, he goes and sells all that he has and buys it.'" Was Matthew thinking of his own calling to the kingdom of heaven?
Only Matthew explained how the unmerciful servant, who owed the king ten thousand talents, was released and forgiven his debt. "'But as that servant went out, he met one of his fellow-servants who owed him a hundred denari, and he laid hold of him and throttled him..." and neither released him nor forgave him the debt. Only Matthew told of the "'householder who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. And having agreed with the laborers for a denarius a day, he sent them into his vineyard.'" Only Matthew wrote down the parable about "'a man going abroad, who called his servants and delivered to them his goods. And to one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one...'" But to the "wicked and slothful servant" the master, after he had returned, said angrily, "'"Thou shouldst therefore have entrusted my money to the bankers, and on my return I should have got back my own with interest."'" It can easily be understood why this evangelist was so concerned about matters financials, and it should not be surprising that this concern showed itself in his Gospel.
It is true that Mark and Luke also wrote about business and money when the occasion demanded it. Yet a comparison of the first Gospel with the second and third shows that Matthew expressed himself in passages that are common to all three Synoptics with a fine difference from Mark and Luke. For example, in the account of Christ's sending the apostles on their first mission, St. Luke recorded ""Take nothing for your journey, neither staff, nor wallet, nor bread, nor money...'" But St Matthew, recording this same incident wrote, "'Do not keep gold, or silver, or money in your girdles, no wallet for your journey...'"
All three Synoptics recorded the incident concerning tribute at Caesar, St. Luke wrote, "'Show me a denarius.'" St Mark wrote, "Bring me a denarius...'" But St. Matthew did not merely use the uncertain term of denarius. He wrote, "'Show me the coin of the tribute." So they offered him a denarius." For him, the former tax-collector, it was not immaterial whether he was speaking of either this or that coin, or simple of money.
No other evangelist was so expert, so pedantic and precise in his accounts involving the value of money as Matthew. His well-trained ear could hear the difference in the clink of different coins. After many years he could remember whether our Lord had spoken of a talent, or a mna, a stater or a denarius or a drachme, an assarion or a quadran." In his Gospel Matthew mentioned ten different piece of money. Mark name only five; Luke, six. Certainly the first Gospel carries the unmistakable mark of its author, Matthew the tax-collector.
Also in the first book of the New Testament the Jewish preference for the numbers three, seven, eight, and fourteen-considered to be "holy" numbers-is often plainly evident. Even in the very first chapter, three groups of fourteen generations of the ancestors of our Lord Jesus Christ were recorded. This life of Jesus before His public ministry was based on seven prophecies; the discourse on the sea, on seven mysteries; the prayer of our Lord, on seven petitions, The accounts of Christ's miracles were divided into three groups of three, with two exhortations inserted between the groups.
Here the entire sketch and outline of the first Gospel becomes evident. It was planned and written according to definite numerical proportions, as was characteristic of the Jewish manner of portrayal. Matthew, the tax-collector and evangelist, had a great love for analogies, and took much trouble to plan and arrange similar words and incident side by side. He arranged his holy subject matter-at least in the large middle section of his Gospel (4:12-18:35)-logically and schematically, not chronologically as St. Luke did, "after following up all things carefully from very first, to write...an orderly account." This tendency to follow a mathematically planned schema may have been a habit left over from the evangelist's earlier work as a collector of taxes. He was obviously determined to arrange his Gospel more beautifully than he had carried out his earlier role in the tax-office.
So, in the middle section of his Gospel, St. Mathew collected and arranged the discourses of the Lord in five large groups, of which the Sermon on the Mount is the most important. It was to the Sermon on the Mount that he joined various others of the Lord's discourses-as a comparison with St. Luke's chronological account shows-to form one beautifully united composition. Similarly, he assembled the miracles of Jesus into coherent accounts, many of which, however, were loosely bound together only with tote-then.
It can readily be seen that this more logical than chronological method of recording the events of the Gospel did not falsify or endanger historical truth. On the contrary, it has invest Matthew's Gospel with a noble clarity and a dignified compactness.
The Holy Gospel according to St. Matthew was significantly arranged into three main parts: a prelude, the crisis and clarification, and a conclusion. The author begin his Gospel (1:1-4:11) with the genealogy of Jesus and an account of a few incidents in Christ's childhood. In the second part (4:12-18:35) our Lord offered His Messianic holiness to the people: the beginning of His labors in Galilee, the Sermon on the Mount, the call and mission of the apostles, and the evidence of His miracles. And the people rejected the Messias; John the Baptist's deputation and Christ's witness concerning him, the laments and threats of Jesus, and the aggression and blasphemy of the Pharisees. Christ separated the faithful from the unfaithful and gathered them into His Church: the parable of the kingdom of heaven, the beheading of John the Baptist, Jesus' return to the faithful, the founding of the Church on Peter, and the instruction of the apostles. In the conclusion of the Gospel (19:1-28:20) the evangelist included: Jesus in Judea and Jerusalem, Palm Sunday, the cleansing of the temple, Christ's passion, death and resurrection, and Easter.
St Mathew wrote this Gospel "for the Jews," as the Church Fathers so often stated it. He wrote it for those who had entered into the spirit of the New Testament, and also for those who persisted in the Old Law. Keeping this fact before our eyes at all times, we can evaluate the first Gospel properly. This first book of the New Testament has many Old Testament characteristics. The very first chapter, the genealogy of Jesus Christ, which seems so dry to modern man, is like a venerable vestibule to the whole New Testament. It is like a solemn and impressive procession of all the nobility of the Old Testament into the New where they meet Jesus Christ, "the Son of David, the son of Abraham. Abraham begot Isaac, Isaac begot Jacob, Jacob begot Judas and his brethren..."
Again and again and again prophecies from the Old Testament flash through the pages of Matthew's Gospel like sparks of lightning to prepare the way to Christ for the Jews, who were so close to the Old Law, "Now all this came to pass that there might be fulfilled what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet..." "So he... withdrew into Egypt... that there might be fulfilled what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet..."
There are no less than seventy such references to and citations of the Old Testament made by Matthew; by Mark, eighteen; by Luke, nineteen; by John, twelve. The same consideration for his Jewish readers prompted Matthew to mention explicitly in his Gospel the words of our Lord concerning His attitude toward the Law of the Old Testament. This Mark and Luke did not record."' Do not think that I have come to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I have not come to destroy, but to fulfill.'" Then six times the evangelist wrote,"' You have heard that it was said to the ancients... But I say to you...'"
In his Gospel, Matthew sought to convince the Jewish people that Jesus was the Messias promised by the Old Law and the Prophets. His Church was the long-awaited and ardently desired Messianic kingdom. Never tiring, the evangelist also brought into prominence the words of Christ that so irritatingly contradicted the Jews' false and distorted notions of an earthly and national Messias.
"Blessed are the poor in spirit... the meek... they who mourn... they who hunger and thirst for justice...the merciful... the pure of heart...the peacemakers...they who suffer persecution for justice' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven."
These words hurt the Jews.
"Blessed are you when men reproach you, and persecute you, and speaking falsely, say all manner of evil against you, for my sake. Rejoice and exult, because your reward is great in heaven."
Matthew recorded more of Jesus' words for the benefit of his Jewish reader: "'I praise thee, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, what thou didst hide these things from the wise and prudent, and didst reveal them to little ones... The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed... This indeed is the smallest of all the seeds...The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in a field.'"
In spite of Jesus' poverty, in spite of the scandal and shock of the cross, He was the Messias foretold by the prophets. The contrasts in the life of Jesus were not spelled out so often or so clearly in any other Gospel as in Matthew's. Christ was persecuted by Herod, honored by the Gentiles. He was baptized as sinner, glorified by the Father. He was tempted by the devil, served by angels. He was crucified as a criminal, witnessed by nature and man as the "living Son of God."
Moreover, Matthew certainly must have provided some answer to that painful mystery, the chosen people's rejection of Jesus as the Messias. It was the same mystery which St. Paul dwelt on in the ninth, tenth, and eleventh chapter of his Epistle to the Romans. Both Matthew and Paul suffered from the rejection of their own people. Saddened, St. Paul quoted Isaias, "' All the day long I stretched out my hand to a people unbelieving and contradicting.'" Matthew was saddened, too, as became evident in the course of his historical accounts; the criminal indifference of the ruler toward the new-born infants; the Jews' envy of the learned; their abominable hatred of the dead; their last malice against the resurrected Savior.
Matthew, the reserved evangelist, unsparingly recorded the justice of our Lord with His enemies, a justice which came down like a thunderstorm over the "blind guides" leading the "blind men." "'Woe to you, Scribes and Pharisees...'' Eight times woe to you! What horrible echoes of the Eight Beatitudes in the beginning of Matthew's Gospel! And the people themselves were not without guilt: "'The kingdom of God will be taken away from you and will be given to a people yielding its fruit.'" Matthew alone noted the dreadful cry of the Jewish race to the pagan Pilate, as he washed his hand: "'His blood be on us and on our children.'" The horrible echo of this cry has never stopped rebounding; it has been heard most loudly in our own century!
It might seem that a Gospel written for the Jews of the first century would have not personal value for our present generation. Matthew's Gospel, however, is limited neither by decades nor by centuries. It remains in the first place, before the other Synoptics, not only by succession, but also by significance. It was written for all ages, and therefore-perhaps especially-for our own age.
Matthew's strict formality, a consequence of his reserved objectivity, has caused his Gospel to be called the "academic Gospel." Its special value for Christianity today lies in its explanation concerning the Messianic kingdom. As opposed to a purely earthly kingdom of the Messias, which the Jews of the first century demanded of Christ as a paradise on earth, and the ideas of which surrounds us today on all sides, Matthew's Gospel stressed the spirituality of the true Messianic kingdom.
Matthew recorded the discourses of Jesus concerning His kingdom in more detail than the other writers of the Gospels, just as John dwelt especially on the divinity of Christ. Here, and not elsewhere, lie the reasons for the objection sometimes made against Matthew's Gospel, against this "Church Gospel," as Renan so expressively called it. In the Gospel of Matthew the Church founded by Christ is clearly placed more in the foreground than in the others. "'Thou are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven...'" These words resound through the First Gospel.
It is symbolic that the legend which has assigned each of the twelve articles of faith to one of the twelve Apostles has placed the article concerning the Church on Matthew's lips: "Credo in sanctum, ecclesiam catholicam-I believe in the holy, Catholic Church." The first Gospel is the "Catholic" Gospel herein lies another reason why this Gospel has a special value for us today-for it belongs to all, embraces all, conciliates all, unites all. All are "chosen people." In the Messianic kingdom there are no races, no classes, no castes.
It is not only an historical fact, but also very symbolic, that in the beginning of Matthew's Gospel the Gentiles, knelt before "the newly born king of the Jews" and worshipped Him. The last words of Christ recorded at the close of the final chapter were: "Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations..." "Catholicity" is the beginning and the climax and the end of Matthew's Gospel.
"All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and behold, I am with you all days, even unto the consummation of the world."
Matthew was both tax-collector and evangelist. How powerfully this combination is expressed in the statue of Matthew standing in the Lateran! Disdainfully the apostle's foot treads on the spilled money-bag; his eyes and his heart attend to the Holy Book that rests on his knees. He is an example and a reminder for all to stand above things material, to turn from the world to the Holy Gospels and, with the grace of God, to become worthy of them. Matthew, the first evangelist to write a Gospel, offers us his own book. For, "' not by bread alone does man live, but by every word that comes forth from the mouth of God."'"