Today marks the feast day of St. Matthew in Catholicism. What might sound like a pretty straightforward day of observance actually commemorates one of the more intriguing figures in Christian history. St. Matthew is credited with writing the first Gospel in the New Testament and thus playing a crucial role in spreading the word of Jesus, but before he was a saint or even a follower of Jesus, he was widely hated by his fellow citizens.
Matthew, who went by Levi before becoming an apostle, worked as a tax collector, which, in ancient Rome, meant being saddled with a untrustworthy, villainous reputation. This line of work was synonymous with oppression and money-grubbing: It wasn't uncommon for collectors to tax every aspect of normal citizens' lives, from their purchases to their travels to their businesses. In other words, Levi probably seemed like the last person who Jesus would greet warmly.
Nevertheless, it's written that Jesus passed by Levi and told him to follow him. Levi stood and went with him right away, earning a place among the apostles and the Christian name Matthew. Jesus even joined Matthew for dinner later, where he shared a table with tax collectors, and, according to the Gospels, other "sinners." As you can guess, this was a bit of a scandal.
Passersby couldn't understand why Jesus would sit down with such a hateful group, and they said as much. Jesus is said to have responded, "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners." In other words, he went where he believed he could make the most difference.
Aside from his meeting with Jesus, Matthew's life remains somewhat of a mystery to Christian historians. According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, he may have lived out his life and died naturally — or he might have died a martyr by burning, stoning, or beheading.
Even without these key details, Matthew remains a significant character in the Bible for the lesson his story teaches about acceptance and materialism. Despite his powerful (albeit unpopular) position in the community, he was open to Jesus' teachings and followed him without question. On his feast day, Catholics are encouraged to reflect on how their religion fulfills them in a way that money and possessions can't — a message that likely resonates for many people across faiths.