Who was Matthew?

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Who was Matthew?

Jesus in a long white robe puts his hand on the shoulder of a man in a blue robe who is sitting on the floor. Four other men in long blue robes stand behind them looking on.

Matthew was a tax-collector working for Roman occupiers of Galilee to tax his own people.

He gave that up to become one of Jesus’ twelve disciples and later in his life he wrote an eye-witness account. His account interweaves an understanding of the Old Testament with his first-hand knowledge of the life and person of Jesus.

What do we know about Matthew from his own account?

We know that Matthew was a tax collector who worked for the Roman government. Tax collectors were deeply unpopular because they collected taxes from their own people for a foreign government. Additionally they often collected excessive amounts so they could keep some for themselves.

Tax collectors were seen as sinful people. They believed it would tarnish a person’s reputation if they spent time with them. Consequently, they were often ostracised from society, and from those whom they collected taxes from.

On one occasion, Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house with many other tax collectors and people questioned his choice of friends. When Jesus heard this, he said:

It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. . . . I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners (Matthew 9:12–13)

The book of Matthew records other words of Jesus that challenge and comfort people, including the following quotes:

“Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Immediately they left their nets and followed him.

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.

Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

You can find out more about Matthew’s story in the free, live performances of the Easter story. Today’s passion plays are a dramatic portrayal of the Bible story, a story which is often called the greatest story ever told. Find one near you this Easter.

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