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Matthew

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. But if you compare the Gospel readings you could no longer doubt that Matthew and Levi are two names for one and the same man. 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."

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. 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. Matthew entered the circle around our Lord quite suddenly and unannounced. It seems that Matthew was also older than the other apostles, the first evangelist had a better education than the other apostles, he owned two houses when he made his appearance in the Gospels. 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.

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 Messiah had fallen upon him, like the sun, it was bright and magnificent. For one brief moment he was ready to follow Him. But no! 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 quiet Levi began to tremble. 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." 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. The Lord had rescued and freed him from money.

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. 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.

The early life of this apostle was not recorded in the Gospels. Tradition has passed down only a few isolated facts. 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. Clement of Alexandria thought it was fifteen years. The most repeated legend maintained he was beheaded. 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.

The Gospel according to St. Matthew was called "the most important book of universal history." 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. They can not be certain of the exact year in which he did this, but it was completed before the year 70. It 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. 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. Matthew, the first evangelist to write a Gospel, offers us his own book.

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. But, he was a man with wings for he raised himself up with the wings of his own good will, above his human weakness and human frailty.

St. Matthew's feast day is September 21.

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