« PreviousContinue »
Chapter III. Analysis of the Gospel
Chapter IV. External History during the Life
TEXT AND NOTES..
MAP OF THE HOLY LAND to face p. 28.
*The Text adopted in this Edition is that of Dr Scrivener's
duction to the Paragraph Bible, published by the Cambridge
LIFE OF ST MATTHEW.
LEVI the son of Alphæus1 was a tax-gatherer at Capernaum. His special duty would be to collect tolls from the fisheries on the Lake, and perhaps from the merchants travelling southward from Damascus. One day Jesus coming up from the Lake side passed near the custom-house where Levi was seated in Oriental fashion, and He saith unto him, Follow me, and he arose and followed Him (ch. ix. 9). That Jesus ever addressed Levi before, we are not told; but it is reasonable to suppose that he was expecting the summons, that he was already a disciple of Jesus, and prepared as soon as Christ gave the word to leave all for His sake. At any rate, Levi must have heard of the Great Rabbi and of His preaching, and have already resolved to adopt the view of the kingdom of God which Jesus taught.
When Levi became a follower of Jesus he changed his name from Levi to Matthew, which means "the Gift of God," and is the same as the Greek name Theodore. This practice was not unusual, and may be illustrated by the instances of Saul and of Simon, who also adopted new names in the new life.
The same day Matthew made a feast-perhaps a farewell feast to his old associates-to which he invited Jesus and His
Alphæus being also the name of the father of James the Apostle it has been conjectured that James and Matthew were brethren. This is of course possible, but can hardly be called probable.
This is indeed an inference, but one which is accepted by the best commentators to harmonise the "Levi" of the second and third Gospels with the "Matthew" of the first Gospel.
disciples. We may conceive what a joyous banquet that was for Matthew, when for the first time as an eye-witness he marked the words and acts of Jesus, and stored within his memory the scene and the conversation which he was inspired to write according to his clerkly ability for the instruction of the Church in all after ages.
After this Matthew is not once named in the Gospel history, except in the list of the Twelve; in the other Gospels he appears seventh on the list, in his own Gospel eighth—the last in the second division. In his own Gospel again—a further mark of humility-he designates himself as "Matthew the publican." His nearest companion seems to have been Thomas (whose surname Didymus has led to the belief that he was Matthew's twin-brother), and in the same group or division were Philip and Bartholomew. Such are the scanty details which the Gospels record of St Matthew. These few notices however suggest some inferences as to the religious position, character and teaching of the Evangelist.
Since Capernaum was in the tetrarchy of Herod Antipas, it may be inferred that Levi was an officer in the service of that prince, and not in the service of the Roman government, as is sometimes tacitly assumed. This is not unimportant in estimating the call and conversion of St Matthew.
A Hebrew who entirely acquiesced in the Roman supremacy could hardly have done so at this period without abandoning the national hopes. Jesus alone knew the secret of reconciling the highest aspirations of the Jewish race with submission to Cæsar. But to acknowledge the Herodian dynasty was a different thing from bowing to Rome. Herod was at least not a foreigner and a Gentile in the same sense as the Roman. Idumea had coalesced with Israel. It is therefore conceivable that a Jew who was waiting for the Messiah's reign may in very despair have learned to look for the fulfilment of his hopes in the Herodian family. If it was impossible to connect Messianic thoughts with an Antipas, or even with the more reputable Philip, still might not a prince hereafter spring from that house to restore the kingdom to Israel? Might not God in His providence fuse by some means the house and lineage of Herod with the house
and lineage of David? It was not impossible, and probably the tyrannical Antipas owed the stability of his throne in some measure to a party among the Jews who cherished these ideas.
No one can read St Matthew's Gospel without perceiving that he was no Hellenist, but a Hebrew of the Hebrews, deeply learned in the history and prophecies of his race, and eagerly looking forward to their realisation; but he had been content to find, or at least to expect that realisation in the family of Herod. These views were suited to his nature in two ways. For we may infer first, that he was influenced by what is almost an inherent passion in his race-the love of gain; (had it not been so he would never have chosen a career which at its best was despised and odious); secondly, that he loved a life of contemplation and quiet, and was well pleased to separate himself from the fiery enthusiasm and headstrong schemes of the Galileans who surrounded him. Such may have been the hopes to which Levi clung. But when the plan and teaching of Jesus were unfolded to his mind stored with national memories, he instantly recognised the truth and beauty and completeness of that ideal, and gave himself up heart and soul to the cause of the Son of David. For that cause and for the kingdom of God he resigned all his hopes of advancement in Herod's kingdom, his lucrative calling, and the friends he had made.
It may be that Matthew's wealth was not in an absolute sense great, but it was great for the little Galilean town. It was great to him. And if like St Paul he had left a record of his personal religious feelings, he might have related how he counted up all the several items of gain, and found the sum total loss compared with the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus1.
If we may judge from the silence of the Gospels, the position which Matthew held among his fellow-disciples was a humble one. He was not among the chosen three. No incident connects itself with his name, as with the names of Andrew and Simon, of Philip, of Thomas, or of Bartholomew, of Judas [the brother] of James, of the sons of Zebedee. No one word of his to Christ is recorded. Even when he was called he rose and followed in silence.
1 Phil. iii. 7, 8.