The Celts of old shared the Eastern Orthodox position and remembered Matthew on November 16th, but his modern feast day is today. He is traditionally recognised to be the writer of the Gospel which bears his name and is identified with Levi, son of Alphaeus, a tax collector from Capernaum. In the Gospels the phrase ‘tax collectors and sinners’ is commonly used to encompass those who are despised by respectable Jewish society. To some extent the tax collectors deserved this treatment: they worked for the hated Roman occupying power and often took more than the Government demanded in order to line their own pockets. The story of Zacchaeus, a chief tax collector, told by Luke, gives some indication of the feelings against them. Also, when Jesus chose to eat at Matthew’s home the religious leaders saw it as a questionable thing to do, but Jesus expressed his mercy for Matthew and those like him.
Matthew was with the other disciples on the Day of Pentecost, but then disappears from the Biblical record. He is said to have remained in Judea and told the story of Jesus to the Hebrew people for fifteen years before visiting other countries to spread the message. Islamic tradition declares that Matthew and the Apostle Andrew took their message to Ethiopia. Some traditions hold that he was martyred for the faith. In Christian art, including the Lindisfarne Gospels, Matthew is given the symbol of the winged man.
Lord, You showed Your great mercy to Matthew the tax collector by calling him to be an apostle. He left behind his life of selfishness and greed to learn a life of trust and sharing. Following his example, and supported by Your Spirit, may we always answer Your call, live in close union with You, and serve this world in the name of Christ. Amen.