Sunday, April 22, 2012

April 23: St. Matthew, Apostle and Evangelist

Saint Matthew, Apostle and Evangelist
By Darius Haghighat

Born in Galilee during the first century, St. Matthew was one of the twelve apostles and four evangelists. His father was Alphaeus and his brother was the apostle James the Lesser. Also known as Levi, Matthew worked as a tax collector in Capernaum, a job that would cause many Jews and Pharisees alike to despise him. When Jesus went to Capernaum, he called Matthew to be one of His disciples. Matthew then invited Jesus to dine in his home with tax collectors and sinners. After this, Matthew became one of the twelve apostles and followed Jesus. He witnessed the Resurrection and the Ascension of Our Lord. Then, in the upper room, the Holy Spirit came upon him, the other eleven, and Mary during Pentecost.  Following Jesus’ great commission to “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” (Matthew 28:19), Matthew continued to spread Christ’s teachings. He went on to write the first of the four Gospels and was martyred in Ethiopia.

As a disciple of Jesus, Matthew was a man of great faith. He was called to holiness despite his occupation as a tax collector. In those days, tax collectors were seen as traitors and thieves: traitors because they worked for the oppressive Roman Empire, thieves because they would often overcharge people to make extra money for themselves. Matthew himself may not have been as dishonest as others who shared his profession, but he would’ve still had what was seen as an evil job.

God however, has a purpose for every aspect of our lives, as He demonstrates with St. Matthew.  When Christ was criticized for dining with sinners and tax collectors, he responded, “I came not to call the righteous, but sinners” (Mark 2:17). Thus, Matthew’s conversion demonstrated that all can attain holiness, regardless of how unholy they once were. St. Matthew’s position as a tax collector also had a more practical purpose in salvation history:  tax collectors had to be literate in both Greek and Aramaic. In other words, they were some of the few people who were able to read and write during that time. This literacy allowed St. Matthew to record Christ’s life and teachings into the first Gospel.

The Gospel according to Matthew begins differently than the other Gospels do. St. Matthew opens with the genealogy of Jesus. He begins with Abraham and traces a line down through David to Jesus Christ. Since he begins with the human ancestry of Jesus, St. Matthew’s symbol (coming from the four living creatures in the Book of Revelation) is a winged man. This symbol is fitting because St. Matthew stresses Jesus’ identity as the Son of David, the Son of Man, and the Son of God. Thus, St. Matthew uses a human approach to better understand Christ’s divinity.

St. Matthew’s Gospel also stresses Jesus’ wisdom. He establishes the Lord as a teacher. As a tax collector, St. Matthew would’ve felt comfortable with laws and regulations; that would explain how closely he records teachings such as the Sermon on the Mount, where Christ introduced the Beatitudes. The Gospel according to Matthew provided the Church with a strong foundation for her own teachings.

St. Matthew’s identity, however, goes beyond that of a journalist, merely recording events for future reference. No, St. Matthew played a key role in the New Testament. He was willing to leave behind his no doubt profitable career as a tax collector to follow the Son of God, which earned him his place among the twelve apostles. His dedication to spreading the Word of God is what secured his place in Heaven. And so, by participating in and preserving the memory of the events of the New Testament, St. Matthew fulfilled his role in God’s plan.

There are a number of St. Matthew’s qualities that we are called to emulate. One is the simple recognition that Jesus Christ is our Lord. St. Matthew used the phrase “Son of God” countless times in his Gospel, emphasizing Jesus’ divine nature. We too are meant to be pure of heart and see that in Him.

 St. Matthew is a model of conversion, as he turned his whole life around to follow Jesus, an opportunity he knew was worth more than the Roman Empire could ever compensate for. The example he set for us is one of repentance and obedience.

Finally, St. Matthew understood the importance of establishing a relationship with Jesus Christ. He got to know our Lord as both God and Man, the very reason Jesus was incarnated. The final line of St. Matthew’s Gospel, “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age,” (Matthew 28:20) shares with us his own reassurance that, by following in Christ’s steps, we will constantly have our all-powerful, ever-loving God beside us. 

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