Episco-Fact #106
September 13, 2018

St. Francis is studying the first three thousand years of Christian History. Are there any important characters or anniversary dates that we should take note of at this time of year?

Yes. There are a couple of really important dates to be remembered in the near future. The first, the Feast of St. Matthew, Apostle and Evangelist, September 21, and the second, The Feast of St. Michael and All Angels, September 29 (to be dealt with next week), are both fixed date feasts and ordered just behind Principle Feasts and Sundays in their importance on the Church Calendar. Therefore, the theology or story behind these feasts are important to the overall understanding of the Church.

Matthew's Gospel, according to tradition, was the first of the Gospels and, accordingly, is first in the New Testament. This attribution of is disputed in scholarly circles with most New Testament academics and Christian clergy believing the evidence points to the Gospel of Mark as the first written among those in the canon (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John). For this contribution alone, Matthew would be important to Christian History, but he also holds a place among all the disciple lists. (see Matthew 10:30, Mark 3:18, Luke 6:15, Acts 1:13—John has no list).

Matthew's call by Jesus in occurs in 10:3 and he is referred to as a publican. Publicans in the Roman Republic were men who contracted with the Roman government to supervise harbors and other public building works, as well as supervising duty collection. Later in the Republic, publicans contracted with the Roman Government to collect taxes. By the time of the early empire, this tax collection franchise was especially critical in areas like Judea, where Rome had direct involvement through Imperial representatives like Pilate. Matthew, in the role of publican, appears to be collecting duties at a road station on the way into a town. His status as a publican would likely make him personae non-gratis with fellow Jews. In parallel stories in Mark and Luke, the publican called by Jesus is named Levi. Jesus' call brings him back into the Jewish people, an extension of Jesus' early ministry to call the lost of the tribes back into relationship.

According to Eusebius of Caesarea, a Church historian of the late 3rd and early 4th Centuries, after the resurrection, Matthew went to preach to the Hebrews. Roman Martyrology states that he was martyred in Ethiopia. This attribution may not conflict as more data roles in demonstrating a strong DNA tie in Ethiopian peoples to diaspora Jews, already attested to by narrative claims in Ethiopian folk stories and traditions.

In art and symbology, Matthew is represented by a man, given that his genealogy emphasizes the human origins of Jesus primarily because it begins with Abraham instead of Adam, who was created by God and who begins the genealogy of Luke, see Matthew 1:1-17.