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Apostle St. Matthew

by Lois Donahue

I was truly surprised to learn how little we know about Mathew from the Bible itself -- only that he was a "tax collector", he was also known as Levi, he was chosen by Jesus to be one of 'the Twelve', he gave a "great banquet" for Jesus and his father's name was Alphaeus -- (which brings us to the disagreement as to whether or not he was the brother of "James, son of Alphaeus").

I guess, because Mathew's name is so familiar, I expected more. Nevertheless, I am truly grateful for what has been passed on to us in one form or another ...for instance, it is said that he wrote in Aramaic what has come to be known as -- the first, the longest in chapters, the most popular, as well as the most widely read and quoted 'Gospel'. Beyond that, there seems to be no record as to when he was born and it is even questionable if, or if not, he was born in Capernaum. Was he or wasn't he married seems to be another question asked but not given a provable answer. The only thing suggested regarding his early life was the 'probability' that he was not a follower of John the Baptist and no where near 'godly'.

The latter assumption seems only derived from the fact that he chose to become an employee of the Roman government in a position generally believed to include graft and corruption and which, in the eyes of the Pharisees, would render him "unclean". Along that line however, and adding a very positive note to our knowledge of Mathew, let us be reminded that if he had been a man of some wealth and used to a life of comparative luxury, as seems the case, just think what he was willing to give up in order to follow Jesus.

By the way, since we are on the subject, let me tell you that what he did for a living, however it may be judged, will remain part of church history not only thanks to the Bible but to Church art wherein one symbol given Mathew is "the purse" or "money bags" -- don't imagine that thrills him too much. But back to the unfortunate absence of any information I found available regarding some of the more important things about Mathew which I would loved to have learned, a bit of 'trivia' like the following showed up more than once. He was a vegetarian, eating only nuts, seeds and vegetables. Granting equal time, though, there was also admission, that he was well educated in Scripture and Jewish law and, as to his life before his 'conversion', in truth, how many of us would want to be judged on either trivia about us or poor judgement by us?

The Mathew destined for sainthood emerges in what we learn about his life "after taxes". From our standpoint, the highlight of those years would undoubtedly be 'the Gospel according to Mathew' which, emphasizes both the fulfillment of the prophecy of the Old Testament and the Lord's humanity. That fact alone leads me to believe, if we listen carefully when we hear Mathew's 'Gospel' read or thoughtfully read it ourselves, especially between the lines, what he selected to say and how he says it may give us a very personal glimpse into the beliefs and priorities of Mathew himself -- far more than what we might find in volumes containing the 'opinions' of others.

(Just a brief footnote regarding the remarkable writing accomplishment of Mathew, an appropriate symbolic "quill" was added to the choices given artists in portraying him.)

Beyond the above, traditions and early writings tell us he most likely preached to Hebrews in Palestine but spent a great many years abroad 'evangelizing' in Iran and possibly even in places like Egypt and Ethiopia which, it seems agreed, was the reason that he and Paul never met and why Paul never mentions him in his writings. We are told that Mathew had the Gift of Tongues and that he once raised a King from the dead but, not surprisingly, we are also told about his trip to cannibal country where people came out to see him but only to see if he was "sound and plump" thus promising an excellent meal so they put him in a dungeon while they prepared the oven and the sauce. One end to the story says he was miraculously saved, another that he was eaten.

As to his actual death. It is again shadowed. A few believe he died a natural death but the great majority believe otherwise and he is certainly revered as a martyr. The uncertainty revolves around "how" he suffered martyrdom. Many ways have been suggested -- ranging from being stabbed in the back to being beheaded to being burned or even eaten by cannibals. Consequently the shadow remains. The speculated year of his death is about 100 A.D., probably at the age of 90. His bones are reported to be in bothe Salerno and in Rome - again uncertainty about this great man who, because of the lack of "facts" has been called the "phantom" Apostle.

I can just imagine him in Heaven -- humbly smiling about that. I will leave Mathew with three very complimentary things said about him - he was a worthy and faithful disciple - unquestionably a gifted writer - and perhaps the "best educated" of the Twelve. Remember those on his Feast Day, September 21st.

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"Nothing should
frighten or grieve you.
Let not your heart be troubled. Am I, your Mother,
not here with you?"

"Nothing should
frighten or grieve you.
Let not your heart be troubled. Am I, your Mother,
not here with you?"

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