Matthew, one of Jesus’ disciples, is probably to be identified with Levi, a tax collector (“publican”) mentioned by Mark and Luke. In the Gospel according to Matthew, it is said that Matthew was seated in the custom-house when Jesus bade him, “Follow me.” When Jesus called him, he at once left everything, followed the Master, and later gave a dinner for him. Mark and Luke also note that Levi was a tax collector. In all three accounts, Jesus is severely criticized for eating at the same table with tax collectors and other disreputable persons.
Tax collectors were viewed as collaborators with the Roman State, extortioners who took money from their own people to further the cause of Rome and to line their own pockets. They were spurned
as traitors and outcasts. The Jews so abhorred them that pious Pharisees refused to marry into a family that had a publican as a member. Clearly, Matthew was hardly the type of man that a devout Jew would have had among his closest associates. Yet Jesus noted that it was the publican rather than the proud Pharisee who prayed the acceptable prayer, “Lord, be merciful to me, a sinner.” There is frequent favorable reference to publicans in the many sayings of Jesus in the Gospel according to Matthew.
Matthew was called early in Jesus’ ministry, but that he wrote the Gospel that bears his name is seriously doubted by scholars. It is, however, generally accepted that his “logia” or “sayings of Jesus” have been included in that Gospel.
It may be that the author of the First Gospel took from Matthew’s work some of the numerous parables and comments that make that Gospel so popular a source for homilies and teaching. Through this Gospel, especially, Jesus speaks not only of faith and eternal life, but of duties toward one’s neighbors, family, and even enemies.
Tradition has it that Matthew, having converted many persons to Christianity in Judea, traveled to the East; but there is no certain evidence for this. He has been venerated as a martyr, but the time and circumstances of his death are unknown.