St. Matthew the Evangelist (1st century)
Time has cleaned up St. Matthew's reputation.
Today he is venerated as the patron of bankers, accountants
and financial professionals in general -- all useful
individuals who help us manage our money. While we can assume
that Matthew had a good head for figures, his actual career
was far from blameless.
Matthew worked for the Romans as a
tax collector. No one likes taxes, but anti-tax-collector
animosity was especially intense in ancient Israel during the
first century of the Christian era. In the Gospels tax
collectors (also known as publicans) are frequently mentioned
in the same breath as harlots.
If tax collectors had a lousy
reputation 2,000 years ago, they deserved it. Under the
Romans taxes on income, personal property, imports and
exports were subcontracted to private individuals. In
exchange for paying the Romans a fee up front for the right
to collect taxes, these freelance taxmen were given free rein
to overcharge or extort as much as they could squeeze out of
the tax-paying public. Once tax season was over, the
collectors rendered to Caesar what was Caesar's, and pocketed
whatever was left over.
The people of ancient Israel had a
special loathing for Jewish tax collectors: they regarded
them as shameless crooks who committed the two-fold crime of
collaborating with heathens and preying upon their own
Matthew, also called Levi in the Gospels of St. Mark
and St. Luke, collected taxes in Capernaum. He was sitting at
his table in the customs house, shaking down his neighbors,
when Jesus Christ walked by. Our Lord had just healed a
paralyzed man; now he was about to reconcile a sinner.
"Follow me," Christ said. To the surprise of the Roman
guards, the clerks and the tax payers, Matthew got up, left
the money where it lay on the table, turned his back on a
life of government-sanctioned larceny and joined the handful
of men we know as the Twelve Apostles.
From an early date
Christians attributed one of the Gospels to St. Matthew. We
owe to Matthew such unique features as St. Joseph's plan to
divorce the Blessed Virgin Mary, the coming of the Magi to
Bethlehem, King Herod's slaughter of the Holy Innocents, the
Holy Family's flight into Egypt, a great part of the Sermon
on the Mount, the parable of the sower, the metaphor of the
sheep and the goats at the Last Judgment, the suicide of
Judas, and the account of the guards placed at Christ's tomb.
There is no reliable record of what Matthew did after the
first Pentecost when the apostles scattered to preach the
Gospel. He may have gone to Ethiopia, or to the region near
the Caspian Sea -- those two destinations are mentioned most
often in the old sources. There is even a claim that St.
Matthew introduced Christianity to Ireland. His later life is
a mystery. Tradition says that he died a martyr, cut down
with a sword as he said Mass, but we aren't even sure about
Craughwell is the author of This Saint Will Change Your Life (Quirk, 2012) and St. Peter's Bones: How the Relics of the First Pope Were Lost and Found
Then Lost and Found Again (Image Books, 2014).