Matthew, also known as “Levi,” was born in Galilee, son of Alphaeus. Matthew lived in Capernaum and worked at a nearby border crossing as a customs agent where it was his job to collect toll or duty on all of the people, animals, and goods. He worked under Herod Antipas, ruler of Galilee and Perea. “Toll collectors” or “tax collectors” were very unpopular with average Jewish citizens because they were viewed as greedy and corrupt. They often pocketed the difference for themselves. They were considered traitors because they consorted with the Romans who were despised as pagans and an unwelcome foreign presence in their homeland.
Since Matthew was a tax collector he would have been literate in Aramaic and Greek. His call was described in Mark 2:14:
The Calling of Matthew
As he walked along, he saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” Jesus told him, and Levi got up and followed him.
Matthew then invited Jesus home for a feast. On seeing this, the Scribes and the Pharisees criticized Jesus for eating with tax collectors and sinners. This prompted Jesus to answer, “I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” Matthew displayed one of the most radically changed lives 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.
Matthew followed Christ in Galilee and was present at the time of His passion and witness to His resurrection. He was also present at Christ’s ascension and again on Pentecost. He is spoken of ten times in the New Testament.
Tradition says Matthew preached in Jerusalem for fifteen years after the death and resurrection of Jesus. After that his other destinations vary.
Some say he went to “the East,” including Syria and Persia; others say he went to Europe, maybe Macedonia, possibly as far as Ireland. Matthew’s final destination most likely was Ethiopia where tradition says he was martyred, first crucified on a T-shape cross and then beheaded with an axe.
Martyrdom of St. Matthew by Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, c. 1600,
Contarelli Chapel in the church of San Luigi dei Francesi, Rome, Italy
Matthew, one of the Four Evangelists
Matthew was one of the Four Evangelists, according to the Bible, symbolized by a winged man or angel. He authored the first Gospel of the Bible’s New Testament, now known as the Gospel of Matthew.
Tomb of Matthew the Apostle
The remains of Saint Matthew are in the crypt of Duomo di Salerno (Salerno Cathedral) in the city of Salerno in southern Italy.
Cathedral Church of Matthew the Apostle in Salerno, Italy
Saint Matthew is the patron saint of tax collectors, customs officers, guards, security personnel, stock brokers and all money managers.
His feast day is September 21.