Matthew was a dishonest tax collector driven by greed, until Jesus Christ chose him as a disciple.
We first meet Matthew in Capernaum, in his tax booth on the main highway. He was collecting duties on imported goods brought by farmers, merchants, and caravans. Under the Roman Empire's system, Matthew would have paid all the taxes in advance, then collected from the citizens and travelers to reimburse himself.
Tax collectors were notoriously corrupt because they extorted far and above what was owed, to ensure their personal profit. Because their decisions were enforced by Roman soldiers, no one dared object.
Matthew was named Levi before his call by Jesus. We don't know whether Jesus gave him the name Matthew or whether he changed it himself, but it is a shortening of the name Mattathias, which means "the gift of God."
On the same day Jesus invited Matthew to follow him, Matthew threw a great farewell feast in his home in Capernaum, inviting his friends so they could meet Jesus too. From that time on, instead of collecting tax money, Matthew collected souls for Christ.
Despite his sinful past, Matthew was uniquely qualified to be a disciple. He was an accurate record keeper and keen observer of people. He captured the smallest details. Those traits served him well when he wrote the Gospel of Matthew some 20 years later.
By surface appearances, it was scandalous and offensive for Jesus to pick a tax collector as one of his closest followers, since they were widely hated by the Jews. Yet of the four Gospel writers, Matthew presented Jesus to the Jews as their hoped-for Messiah, tailoring his account to answer their questions.
Matthew displayed one of the most radically changed lives in the Bible in response to an invitation from Jesus. He did not hesitate, he did not look back. He left behind a life of wealth and security for poverty and uncertainty. He abandoned the pleasures of this world for the promise of eternal life.
The remainder of Matthew's life is uncertain. Tradition says he preached for 15 years in Jerusalem following the death and resurrection of Jesus, then went out on the mission field to other countries. Legend has it that he died as a martyr in the cause of Christ.
Accomplishments of Matthew:He served as one of the 12 disciples of Jesus Christ. As an eyewitness to the Savior, Matthew recorded a detailed account of Jesus' life, the story of his birth, his message and his many deeds in the Gospel of Matthew. He also served as a missionary, spreading the good news to other countries.
Matthew's Strengths:Matthew was an accurate record keeper. He knew the human heart and the longings of the Jewish people. He was loyal to Jesus and once committed, he never wavered in serving the Lord.
Matthew's Weaknesses:Before he met Jesus, Matthew was greedy. He thought money was the most important thing in life and violated God's laws to enrich himself at the expense of his countrymen.
Life Lessons:God can use anyone to help him in his work. We should not feel unqualified because of our appearance, lack of education, or our past. Jesus looks for sincere commitment. We should also remember that the highest calling in life is serving God, no matter what the world says. Money, fame, and power cannot compare with being a follower of Jesus Christ.
Referenced in the Bible:Matthew 9:9, 10:3; Mark 2:14, 3:18; Luke 5:27-29; 6:15; Acts 1:13.
Occupation:Tax collector, disciple of Jesus, gospel writer, missionary.
Family Tree:Father - Alphaeus
As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector's booth. "Follow me," he told him, and Matthew got up and followed him. (NIV)
Then Levi held a great banquet for Jesus at his house, and a large crowd of tax collectors and others were eating with them. (NIV)
Jack Zavada, a career writer and contributor for About.com, is host to a Christian website for singles. Never married, Jack feels that the hard-won lessons he has learned may help other Christian singles make sense of their lives. His articles and ebooks offer great hope and encouragement. To contact him or for more information, visit Jack's Bio Page.