September News From The Clergy

September News From The Clergy

27 Aug 2020 • From the Clergy

Caravaggio’s painting, “The calling of St Matthew” depicts the moment Christ inspired Matthew to follow him. The painting shows a finger pointing and a surprised looking Matthew pointing at himself as if asking “Who – me? “That feeling will be familiar to many of you. It certainly is to me, as I recall the incredulity I felt when it was first suggested that I might consider ordination! God calls unlikely people. He called me, as he calls each of us in different ways, and he called Matthew to be an unlikely founder member of his Church.

We celebrate St Matthew’s day later this month, but what do we know about him? In fact, very little, and what we think we know is challenged in some schools of thought, as my Post Confirmation Group recently discovered. Meeting via Zoom during lockdown, we have been studying Matthew’s Gospel and discovered the following.

Matthew’s Feast Day is celebrated on September 21st and his symbol is a man or a human face. After the account of the calling of Matthew, hardly any other mention is made of him in the Gospel accounts and we are unsure where or when he died, although some church traditions believe he was martyred in Ethiopia.

The thing which surprised us most, however, was that it is not universally accepted that the Matthew who was called by Christ is the same Matthew who wrote the Gospel of that name. While J. Stafford Wright claims:

“He was universally accepted as the author of the first Gospel ….” [1]

Peter Calvocoressi writes of Matthew:

“One of the twelve apostles, also called Levi son of Alphaeus … but not the Matthew who wrote the first Gospel …. In early times the authorship of the first Gospel was ascribed to the apostle Matthew but … this view has been demolished.” [2]

Calvocoressi was not strictly correct in claiming that the belief that Matthew the apostle and Matthew the Gospel writer were one and the same has been “demolished!” Some sources still hold this view. They appear, however, to be in the minority.

One thing which is agreed upon, is that Matthew, at the time that Christ called him, was a tax collector, working for the Romans. As such, he would have been regarded with suspicion and dislike by most Jews – including, presumably, the other disciples. The early days of Matthew’s career as a follower of Christ could not have been easy for any of them. Despite this, Matthew persevered and is attributed with a far-flung ministry after the death of Christ and possible martyrdom in Ethiopia.

Little as we know about Matthew, he is nonetheless a worthy example, role model and source of reassurance for us. Working for the hated occupiers and almost certainly taking a “bigger cut” for himself than he should have done, Matthew was an unlikely candidate to be called by Christ. Yet he was called, and he obeyed that calling. God continues to call unlikely people into his service. We don’t need to put our lives in order first – God will do that – we just need to be willing, as Matthew was, to accept that we are called, “warts and all” and to follow his example of obedient response to that call whenever it may come.

Matthew persevered, putting the call of Christ before and above the difficulties that call presented. He left his job (and who knows what possible consequences that might have led to at the hands of his Roman employers?) and braved the hostility of the other disciples to follow his Master. We, too, may have to make sacrifices and face difficulties and opposition as we seek to follow and serve Christ. Will have the courage of Matthew to not only make those sacrifices and face those difficulties, but to do so with generosity and joy? Luke’s gospel tells us that having responded to Christ’s call, Matthew gave a “great banquet for him.” This was no half-hearted, reluctant obedience; this was a joyful, generous embracing of the new life to which he was called. Is our own response to God’s call on our lives equally unequivocal? The Collect for St Matthew’s Day helps us to pray that it may be.

O Almighty God,

whose blessed Son called Matthew the tax-collector

to be an apostle and evangelist;

give us grace to forsake the selfish pursuit of gain

and the possessive love of riches

that we may follow in the way of your Son Jesus Christ,

who is alive and reigns with you,

in the unity of the Holy Spirit;

one God, now and for ever. Amen.


[1] J Stafford Wright: Dictionary of Bible People. Scripture Union 1978.

[2] P. Calvocoressi : Who’s who in the Bible. Viking 1987.