Festival of St. Matthew, Apostle and Evangelist
The Lord be with you
September 21 is the festival of St. Matthew, Apostle and Evangelist. St. Matthew, also known as Levi, identifies himself as a former tax collector, one who was therefore considered unclean, a public sinner, outcast from the Jews. In general, tax collectors were despised for two reasons. First, they were viewed as traitors, because they worked for the Romans. Second, they were viewed as thieves. This was because of how the Romans “paid” their tax collectors. Rome set the amount of money a tax collector needed to raise, not what each individual owed. The tax collector’s “pay” was what ever he collected above what the area owed Rome. Many tax collectors collected far more than what was owed to Rome, becoming wealthy, but earning additional ire from their fellow citizens. A third typical facet of a tax collector’s life didn’t help their reputation. As “good” people would not associate with them, their associates often came from the despised of society. “Birds of a feather,” and all that type of thinking, further solidified their position as public sinners.
Yet it was such a one as this whom the Lord Jesus called away from his occupation and wealth to become a disciple (Matthew 9:9-13). Not only did Matthew become a disciple of Jesus, he was also called and sent as one of the Lord’s twelve apostles (Matthew 10:2-4). In time, he became the evangelist whose inspired record of the Gospel was granted first place in the ordering of the New Testament. Many feel that Matthew’s Gospel portrays Christ especially as the new and greater Moses, who graciously fulfills the Law and the Prophets (Matthew 5:17) and establishes a new covenant of salvation in and with His own blood (Matthew 26:27-28). Matthew’s Gospel is also well known and beloved for its record of the visit of the Magi (Matthew 2:1-12); for the Sermon on the Mount, which includes the Beatitudes and the Lord’s Prayer (aka as the “Our Father”) (Matthew 5-7); and for the institution of Holy Baptism and the most explicit revelation of the Holy Trinity (Matthew 28:16-20).
Tradition is uncertain where his final field of labor was and whether Matthew died naturally or a martyr’s death. It is suggested that Matthew was the oldest of the apostles. Eusebius (263-339) says that after the ascension Matthew preached for fifteen years in Judea and then went to foreign nations. Socrates Scholasticus (born around 280) says he labored in Ethiopia; Ambrose (330-397) sends him to Persia and Isidore (560-636) to Macedonians, while others hold that he preached among the Meds and Persians. Clement of Alexandria (150-215) said that Matthew was a vegetarian. The Gnostic Heracleon (flourished about 175) says that Matthew died a natural death, but no one else supports this. Both Eastern and Western tradition hold that he was martyred, though how is vague. It seems the most accepted view is that he was martyred by a sword, or perhaps a spear, though the exact method is not revealed in the ancient martyrologies, perhaps while preaching in Ethiopia.
In celebrating this festival, we give thanks to God that He has mightily governed and protected His Holy Church through this man who was called and sent by Christ to serve the sheep of His pastures with the Holy Gospel.
Collect for the Festival of St. Matthew: O Son of God, our blessed Savior Jesus Christ, You called Matthew the tax collector to be an apostle and evangelist. Through his faithful and inspired witness, grant that we also may follow You, leaving behind all covetous desires and love of riches; for You live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
Other prayers this day might inspire:
• For all public servants
• For the study of the Bible
• For the spread of the Christian Faith
Blessings in Christ,
Pastor John Rickert