Missouri Synod Church in Downtown Memphis

Sept 21 – The Feast of St. Matthew

St. Matthew with the Angel, Jusepe de Ribera, 1613

St. Matthew with the Angel, Jusepe de Ribera, 1613

At the time of Jesus, collecting taxes was a lucrative job. Once appointed, the tax collector was expected to turn in a specific amount of tax to the Roman government and perhaps a percentage to the official who had been bribed to give him the commission

There were rules regarding how much tax to collect, but they were largely ignored. Anything that was “collected” beyond what was rightfully due was not Rome’s concern. Tax collectors were seen as devious, greedy, and dishonest. It was common for a tax collector to charge someone with smuggling or evasion so that a bribe might be secured to make the charges go away.

It is by his example that we come to know that Christ embraced those that were despised and outcast from the church.
The chief tax collector in Judea was Roman, but he hired Jewish administrators. Jewish tax collectors were doubly hated. In addition to selling out to the enemy and cheating their own people, the tax collectors willingly let themselves become defiled through contact with Gentiles. Because of this defilement, they were ceremonially unclean, the same as if they had touched a corpse or a carcass. Anyone that came into contact with them was made unclean as well. Tax collectors and sinners were the two classes of people listed by the temple as being totally unacceptable for righteous people to associate with.

Jesus spotted Matthew (also known as Levi) outside of his tax office and called him to be a disciple. Matthew promptly invited Jesus into his home for a fancy dinner with many of his tax collector friends as well as people scriptures refer to as “sinners.” This shocked the Scribes and the Pharisees. Jesus was respected as a very learned rabbi.

In 1600, the Italian artist Caravaggio depicted Jesus calling Matthew in a contemporary setting for the day. Here we see the tax collector, dressed in his finery, surrounded by his friends when Jesus says to him, "Follow me."

In 1600, the Italian artist Caravaggio depicted Jesus calling Matthew in a contemporary setting for the day. Here we see the tax collector, dressed in his finery, surrounded by his friends when Jesus says to him, “Follow me.” (click image to enlarge)

That he would intentionally enter into the house of a tax collector and would sit down to eat food with him was beyond the pale of decency. They criticized Jesus publicly. Jesus responded “They that are whole have no need of the physician, but they that are sick: I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” (Mark 2:17)

Matthew proved himself to be a very devoted follower of Christ. He was a witness to the Resurrection and to the Ascension. He was among the disciples sent out into the world with The Great Commission. Some traditions say that Matthew traveled throughout Judah preaching the Gospel, and later joined with Andrew and preached in Ethiopia.

For centuries, September 21 has be set aside as a day to honor Saint Matthew. It is by his example that we come to know that Christ embraced those that were despised and outcast from the church. Christ did not limit his association to those who were like-minded and lived a righteous lifestyle. He did not shy away from those that the church called unrepentant sinners and moral degenerates. As He said, He came not for the righteous, but for all sinners-everyone of us.

Sept 21 – The Feast of St. Matthew September 17, 2013