Matthew – Levi, the tax collector
by Rev. Reingard Knausenberger
Levi was a very commonly used name, as the of ‘son of Alphaeus’ he is identified according to his ancestry, and by the description of a profession he introduces us into the world of finance, trade and economic management. Levi is the name the Gospels of Mark and Luke (Mk 2:14; Lk 5: 27) use when relating the calling out of this individuality into the circle of the 12 disciples. The Gospel of Matthew, though, highlights other subtler aspects:
‘And as Jesus walked on, he sees a person (literally: a human being) sitting in the tax-collecting booth, by the name of Matthew, and he speaks to him: Follow me! And he stood up and followed him.’ (Mt 9: 9). Nathanael and Matthew are the only two disciples whose individual calling is described in detail (Peter and Andreas, the sons of Zebedee are each called together). Both are obviously scholars of their history and deeply connected to their prophecies, they are educated men with inner initiative. Matthew, or Mathai, was the given name as apostle after his calling. Capernaum was his home, where Jesus also often was.
It has a special ring when we hear: ‘Jesus sees a human being sitting in the tax-collector booth.’ He sees, knows deeply, has an insight of the true individuality of this person. Tax-collectors were normally despised as traitors and considered dishonourable and self-serving.
Yet Jesus sees a true striving human being who has developed his humanity, compassionate, self-controlled, an awake exact observer acting outwardly congruently with his inner values. That something noble, even ‘kingly’, emanates from him seems expressed in the fact that many other ‘tax-collectors and sinners’ happily join the farewell meal to which he has invited Jesus. The Gospel which he then writes, bears witness to qualities of nobility and kingship as well as to earthly conditions and requirements. He can traverse between the dimensions of spirit and matter. Many more times than any other gospel, he speaks of sums of money and their functions (37 times) and mentions 10 different currencies. Was it possibly a deliberate choice that he engaged with the aspect of life where the danger of falling into materialistic and superficial, arrogant behaviour patterns is most tempting? Could he therefore bring some valuable experience into the circle of disciples? At this first meal that a Gospel describes which Jesus shares ‘publicly’ with others, two motifs resonate with each other: bread and money, stone (metal, coins) and bread, selling and buying so that humans can be nourished. It is Matthew who knows deeply about this relationship. There are areas of earthly life which Christ could only comprehend through human souls.
The first Gospel is characterised by careful structuring of the content and through interest in numbers. It is Mathew who has parables relating of the treasures to be found in the earth. The symbol of this Gospel is the developed elevated human being with wings. Does it surprise then that the last word this Gospel lays into our heart to carry with us always as a compass is: ‘’And see, I will be in your midst every day until the completion of earthly time”?
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