Matthew: Disciple

Related posts | Matthew: Tax Collector | Story: The Calling of Matthew

In Mark and Luke’s account of the calling of the tax collector, they use the name Levi. We are not entirely sure why, but there are a couple of possibilities.

Levi may have been his name before he became a follower of Jesus. Jesus may have given him a new name, in the same way he called Simon the fisherman Peter.

It’s also possible that he may of changed his own name, or that he was known as Matthew from the tribe of Levi. The truth is, we don’t really know.

What we do know is that Mathew is a shortening of the name Mattathias, which means “gift of Yahweh,” or simply “the gift of God.”

The other thing we can determine from the story is the effect that Jesus had on him. Matthew lived and worked in Capernaum, which is where Jesus was currently living. Did Matthew and Jesus have a prior knowledge of each other? Had Jesus paid his taxes to Matthew in the past? What had Matthew seen and heard about this Jesus, his miracles and teachings? Perhaps he had heard Jesus teaching in the synagogue.

It’s also highly likely that Matthew knows the government official who lived in Capernaum, who’s son Jesus had healed by just speaking the words, “Go. Your son will live.”

Could it be that Matthew has seen the transformation that has taken place in the lives of some of the other locals who are now following Jesus… like Simon and his brother Andrew. And what about the sons of Zebedee, James and John?

Again, we don’t know what influence Jesus or any of the other disciples may have had in Matthew’s life, but we do know that when Jesus stopped and said “Follow Me”, everything changed.

No Turning Back

When he got up and walked away from his tax-collecting booth, he was virtually guaranteeing himself unemployment. It was alright for some of the other disciples… they always had fishing to return to, but for Matthew, there was no turning back.

And that is one of the things that I admire about him. When Jesus called Matthew to follow him, he got up and followed.

Interestingly, there are no other stories in any of the Gospels about Matthew’s life as a Disciple of Jesus. He appears in the list of the disciples who were appointed by Jesus to be Apostles; and he is listed as one of those present in Acts when Matthias was chosen to replace Judas… but other than that, we know next to nothing about him, except what we can deduce from the story.

Reading Between The Lines

Matthew would have been reasonably wealthy, because he could afford to throw a lavish banquette in his home.

And he was also certainly literate as well. He would have kept immaculate records of the tax collected and paid.

In all likelihood, Matthew would have spoken both Hebrew and Aramaic and probably Koine Greek, which was the everyday language used throughout the Roman Empire, especially east of Rome.

There is also a good chance he could read and write in the legal language of the Roman Empire, which was Latin.

But did Mathew use his literary skills to write the Gospel that bears his name? The short and honest answer to that question is… we don’t know.

What we do know is that the Gospel of Matthew was accepted by the early Church as authoritative and inspired before the end of the first century.

We can also be sure that the author of Matthew wrote for a community of Greek-speaking Jewish Christians, probably in Syrian Antioch, the largest city in Roman Syria and the third-largest in the empire.

Unlike the author of the Gospel of Mark, the author of Matthew never bothers to explain Jewish customs, since his intended audience was a Jewish one.

Even the placing of Matthew as the first Gospel serves a purpose.

There is nearly 400 years of silence from God in the Scriptures between the Old Testament and the New Testament, and Matthew’s account of the birth of Emmanuel breaks that silence.

It is the perfect introduction for the Jews to the new and better covenant.  The author of Matthew wants his people to understand that not only is Jesus King, born in the line of David, but He is also the long awaited for and prophesied about Messiah.

So what might we learn from the life of Matthew the Tax Collector and Disciple?
For me, knowing the context and purpose of the Gospel of Matthew highlights the actions of the man. Whether Matthew wrote the book or not, the recorded actions of this Jewish man speak volumes.

When Jesus called Matthew to follow Him, Matthew got up from his place of security, power and wealth… and allowed Jesus to reshape His identity as a disciple.

That is something we need to do every day.

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