Matthew, the tax collector

Jews  usually turned away as they passed the customs place where Matthew, the tax-collector, was sitting. But look at our gospel for today:

“As Jesus passed by, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the customs post. He said to him, “Follow me.” And he got up and followed him.”

To celebrate their new friendship, Matthew invited Jesus to a banquet at his house with his friends – tax collectors like himself – and Jesus came with some of his disciples. They were criticized immediately for breaking one of Capernaum’s social codes. “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”

Jesus’ answer was quick: “Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do. Go and learn the meaning of the words `I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

Hardly anything is known of Matthew’s part in Jesus’ later ministry, yet surely the tradition must be correct that says he recorded much of what Jesus said and did. Tax collectors were good at keeping books. Was Matthew’s task to keep memories? Did he remember some things that were especially related to his world?

The gospels say that wherever Jesus went he was welcomed by tax collectors. When he entered Jericho, Zachaeus, the chief tax collector of the city, climbed a tree to see him pass, since the crowds were so great. Did Matthew point out the man in the tree to Jesus, a tax collector like himself, who brought them all to his house, where Jesus left his blessing of salvation? And did tax collectors in other towns come to Jesus because they recognized one of their own among his companions?

Probably so. Jesus always looked kindly on outsiders like Matthew who were targets of suspicion and resentment. True, they belonged to a compromised profession tainted by greed, dishonesty and bribery. Their dealings were not always according to the fine line of right or wrong.

But they were children of God and, like lost sheep, Jesus would not let them be lost.

Pope Francis said he got his vocation to be a priest on the Feast of St. Matthew, when he went to confession and heard God’s call, a call of mercy.

Matthew’s Gospel?

The gospels themselves recall little about Matthew, an apostle of Jesus. We have his name, his occupation and a brief story of a banquet that took place with Jesus and some of his friends after his call.  ( Mt 9: 9-13; Mk 2:3-12; Lk5:18-26) As it is, the gospels concentrate on the ministry and teaching of Jesus. 

In the early centuries, those who knew Jesus told his story and brought his message to the world. As they died, writings about him gradually appeared, but there are only scarce references to who wrote them. St. Justin Martyr in the early 2nd century speaks of the “memoirs of the apostles”, without indicating any author by name. Later in that century, St. Irenaeus, bishop of Lyons, writing against the Gnostics who claim a superior knowledge of Jesus Christ attributes the gospels to Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. They are eyewitnesses who really know Jesus firsthand; they have given us their “memoirs.” 

Scholars today are less likely to credit Matthew’s Gospel to the tax-collector from Capernaum whom Jesus called. Some of his memoirs perhaps may be there– after all he came from a profession good at accounting for things. But too many indications point to other sources. Why would Matthew, if he is an eyewitness, depend on Mark’s Gospel as he does? Language, the structure of the gospel, the circumstances it addresses, point to a Jewish-Christian area beyond Palestine as its source, probably Antioch in Syria, probably written around the year 8o, after the Gospel of Mark.

Traditions says that Matthew preached in Ethiopia and Persia, but they have no historical basis.

He is remembered as a martyr who died for the faith, but again there is no historical basis. 

Better to see Matthew as the gospel sees him: one of the first outsiders whom Jesus called. And he would not be the last..

7 thoughts on “Matthew, the tax collector

  1. Gail Smyder

    Love your thoughts Fr. They are so down to earth. He calls us and keeps calling if we are faithful or still working on our call to be holy. Don’t you just love the down to earth new Holy Father Pope Francis. Lots of prayer for him today. Be much blessed as you bless all the people of God that you meet and serve.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. jim

    Cardinal George of Chicago was criticized by some for celebrating an
    anniversary Mass for Gay and lesbian Catholics, they even had police protection for him on that day. But he said these are my sheep, my people and I minister to all in this diocese. He was the only cardinal who visited every parish in the Chicago Archdiocese, well over 320 parishes and groups.
    He even had a Mass at the Cathedral for diocesan hermits, and lay associations….He, like Christ, associated with those people on the margins
    and he was always gracious to all…. Jesus always looked kindly on outsiders and so should each of us, including the inlaws and outlaws in our own

    Liked by 1 person

  3. cenaclemary12

    Police protection to insure pastoral ministry! A sad commentary on democracy. Both Presidential candidates wear protective bullet-proof vests when they appear in public; in addition to the Secret Service members who surround them, plus the plexiglass panels at the podiums. Jesus went out into a public where his enemies attacked with words until the end when he was arrested. Why can’t we honor our differences by acting in non-violent ways? Pray for peace on this Day of Prayer for Peace designated as such by the UN.


  4. Lynda Regan

    St Matthew was “just doing his job.” So often we rationalize our sins with these, or similar words. Jesus says that to follow Him perfectly, we must let go of everything we value, and put Him above all. Maybe not just material things, but also the things we “have to do” are keeping us from living a truly Christian Life. Let us pray for the Divine Grace to see that our job is always, and in all ways, to follow Christ; even if that means making great sacrifices, and profound changes in our daily lives. May the Passion of Jesus be forever in our hearts.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Jo Shafer

    Reply to Jim who posted on this day in 2016 ~ Cardinal George was a saintly man and very dear to us who knew him. What a shining example to all priests and bishops!


  6. fdan

    That we are children of God and that Jesus will never let his sheep be lost. I will never cease to find comfort and contemplation in those words. Thank you, Father Victor, for your post.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s