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St Matthew, Apostle

  • International
  • September 21, 2012
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Matthew was a tax collector, a despised profession to the average Jew because most tax collectors were also extortionists. His conversion to Jesus was almost instantaneous: the Lord looked at him, and said “Follow me!”, and Matthew arose from his table and followed Jesus, not even pausing to reconcile his last financial statement!

Take the story for what it is worth. It reveals the character of a man who can take an important decision, a hard decision and not look back. It also shows his deep appreciation of the new life he was about to embrace – at a banquet he gives in Jesus’s honour, which is also a farewell banquet of sorts, he invites his old cronies and the other disciples. The neighbourhood is scandalized at Jesus’s friendliness with these people: “Your Master -- eating with publicans and sinners!?” Jesus’s answer confounds them further: “God wants a compassionate heart, not sacrificial offerings in the temple. Understand this!”

Matthew’s Gospel had a strong sense of what it was to be a Jew, the heir to God’s promises to Abraham. He saw Jesus as the fulfillment of all these promises, that is why this Gospel is scattered with references to the Law and the Prophets. But he also saw his people as repudiating Jesus, rejecting him as the messiah. He grasped that the ‘new’ Israel would be open to strangers and pagans, while the children of Israel would be cast away.

Some of the most sublime pages in the New Testament are found in Matthew’s Gospel, ‘the Sermon on the Mount’ for example. And his collection of parables helps us understand the future shape of the Church. Matthew’s is the Gospel for all who have grown up immersed in an older religious tradition, but which must now yield to the values of the ‘Reign of Heaven’.
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