Matthew, Also Known as Levi

Matthew, also known as Levi, despite being author of the Gospel bearing his name, is mentioned only four times in the New Testament, excluding the lists of the apostles. His call to discipleship, however, is described in more personal terms than that of the others in the latter half of the lists. In his own Gospel, that event is described in these words: “And as he went out, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the receipt of custom, and he said to him, ‘Follow me.’ And he arose, and followed him” (Matthew 9:9).

Matthew seems to be too humble to mention his own parts played among the followers of Jesus, because while his Gospel alludes to their going into a house for a dinner, it is only in Luke's Gospel that we are told that Matthew (Levi) made a great feast “at his own house” for Jesus and his disciples, with many other publicans being invited to join in (Luke 5:29). And the reaction among the scribes and Pharisees to this event turned it into a significant teachable moment in Jesus' ministry. They accuse him, to put it in modern parlance, of partying with his disciples too much for a holy man of God. To which Jesus replied, “Can ye make the children of the bridechamber fast, while the bridegroom is with them? But the days will come, when the bridegroom shall be taken away from them, and then shall they fast in those days.” Here Jesus is previewing the understanding of the church as bride of Christ, which he will make clearer toward the end of his time with his disciples. His eating and drinking with people considered vulgar and unholy by the pillars of religious society is consistent with his being born among farm animals and being worshipped by shepherds rather than introduced with fanfare and splendor in the Temple.

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Matthew was labeled a publican (public tax collector), and for that the Pharisees, who held all publicans in contempt, despised him. This may be why Jesus recruited him, to show that none is beyond the reach of the Father's grace, and that man's superficial standards for judging are not God's standards.

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