We praise you, Lord, for Matthew
Whose Gospel words declare
That worldly gain forsaking
Your path of life, we share.
From all unrighteous mammon
O raise our eyes anew.
That we, whate’er our station
May rise and follow you!
Matthew is included in the list of the Twelve Apostles in all three Synoptic Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles. Most interestingly, it is only in the Gospel that bears his name where he is identified as the “tax collector” in the list of Apostles. Moreover, the other two Synoptic Gospels record the calling of a tax collector named “Levi, son of Alphaeus” in similar circumstances to the call of Matthew related in his eponymous Gospel. It is likely that Mark and Luke, out of respect for Matthew, or perhaps because they were not Apostles and did not have the information regarding Matthew’s past (though Mark should have that information from Peter), did not identify Matthew with his past but Matthew himself, out of humility, made sure that people knew.
Given that tax collectors were almost universally hated by their countrymen for what was considered collaboration with the Romans, it is entirely possible that Matthew was originally named Levi but changed his name when he started working as a tax collector or perhaps he was originally named Levi but changed his named to Matthew (Hebrew Mattiyahu: “gift of God”) as a sign of his new life after answering Our Lord’s call to follow him as an Apostle. Mark and Luke identify Levi as the son of Alphaeus, whom all the Gospels identify as the father of the Apostle James the Less. Since Alphaeus is usually identified with Cleopas, the husband of the “other Mary” this would make Levi a “brother” (cousin) of Our Lord as well, although he is never mentioned in the lists of the brethren of the Lord in the Gospels.
It is ironic that a former tax collector, reviled for what was considered a betrayal of his people and collaboration with the oppressor who was occupying their land, is credited with the Gospel that was addressed to Jewish believers. The Gospel according to St. Matthew constantly points out how various events in the life of Our Lord fulfilled Old Testament prophecy, starting with His virginal conception in the womb of Our Lady. It is the longest of the four Gospels and while the entirety of the New Testament is written in Greek, many Church Fathers attest to the existence of a (apparently now lost) version of the Gospel originally written in Hebrew.
Matthew has the distinction of being one of six Apostles (the others are Peter, Andrew, James, John and Nathaniel) whose callings are recorded in Scripture. However, after this moment, like most of the Apostles, he fades into relatively obscurity. He is present at every event in which all the Apostles are present (the Last Supper, Resurrection appearances, the Ascension, and Pentecost) but never mentioned by name. It is possible that he was one of two unnamed Apostles in the boat when the Resurrected Christ appeared on the shore of the Lake of Tiberias, but it is more likely these two were Andrew and Philip.
Sts. Irenaeus and Clement of Alexandria state that Matthew preached the gospel to the Jewish community in Judaea before going to other countries. Most traditions agree that these countries included Ethiopia, where he gained the crown of martyrdom. According to legend, the circumstances of his martyrdom were that as a result of his preaching, he gained many converts, including Ephigenia, the daughter of the King Egippus. After being baptized, Ephigenia consecrated her virginity to God. For this reason, she refused to marry the King’s successor Hirtacus. Hirtacus failed to get Matthew to convince Ephigenia to renounce her vow and marry him, so he sent a swordsman to kill Matthew as he offered Mass.
In Greek myth, Iphigenia was also the name of the virgin daughter of Agamemnon, whom he sacrificed to Artemis on the eve of the Trojan War for favorable winds. Here too, the virginity of Iphigenia plays a role but it is not the virgin whose blood is shed but the priest himself, in imitation of Christ, the priest and victim who willingly shed His own blood and was prefigured by Isaac, whom God saved at the last minute to demonstrate to the Israelites that they must reject the human sacrifice so prevalent among their neighbors.
Saint Matthew, apostle, evangelist and martyr, ora pro nobis!