September 21 – Matthew

These weekly “People to Commemorate” posts are a kind of calendar for the commemoration of the saints, reproduced here from a Uniting Church Assembly document which can be found in full here. They are intended for copying and pasting into congregational pew sheets on the Sunday closest to the nominated date.

Images (where provided) are of icons by Peter Blackwood; click on the image to download a high resolution copy of the image.

Matthew, witness to Jesus

(the evangelist & martyr)
(Greek: Mattheus = given, a reward)

The calling of the tax (or toll) collector Matthew by Jesus is mentioned explicitly in the Gospel that bears his name (Mt 9:9), although Mark and Luke use the name Levi in their parallel stories (Mk 2:14; Lk 5:27). All three Gospels list the name Matthew among the twelve disciples (Mt 10:3; Mk 3:18; Lk 6:15; see also Acts 1:13), and tradition attributes the first Gospel in our NT canon to him.

The Gospel of Matthew has been associated with Antioch (Syria) by many scholars, coming together in the form we know today during the 80s at a time of great division and tension within the Jewish community there. It is not surprising then that this Gospel is in many respects the most Jewish of all (Mt 5:17–20!), whilst also containing the most severe criticism of the Temple authorities and other Jewish leaders (Mt 23; 27:25). Amongst other themes, Matthew’s Gospel is noted for its profound respect for the ‘Law and the Prophets’, the ‘New and the Old’, for the Sermon on the Mount, and for its 12 fulfilment citations of the OT (“This happened in order to fulfil — or to ‘fill up” — what was said in the Prophet/s . . .”).

Traditions about Matthew’s life after the resurrection are not very clear or convincing. One account has him on mission in Ethiopia, and martyred there (by axe).

Traditionally, St Matthew is Patron Saint of tax collectors and accountants. It would be appropriate also to suggest that he be Patron Saint to Jews who continue to wrestle with the Jesus traditions, to the persecuted, and to preachers and orators. His Feast Day is 21st September (in the West, and 16th November in the East).

By Dr Keith Dyer