Mining the Archives
(Editor’s Note: Mining the Archives is a collection of articles that have been published in various newsletters over the years and have been lying buried in the archives. A team of volunteers have been “mining the archives” for the gems, so now we can bring them into the light of day to share using modern-day technology. This one is from the Arena Newsletter, Volume 1 No 5, December 1994. It is a presentation by Ari Majurinen from the Elanora Conference in Sydney, 1993)
The records state that Matthew was the seventh apostle chosen. He came from a family of tax gatherers, and was married with four children.
I would like to give a brief outline of Matthew’s profession, as it will prove to be of later importance for Jesus, the Apostles, others, as well as himself. The tax collectors or publicans, although Jewish, were actually subcontractors for the Roman Empire. They had a poor reputation amongst the populace, for due to the nature of their business they mingled and came in too close a contact with unclean Gentiles. As well, they were commonly suspected of exacting more than the given tax rate and pocketing the difference. They also upset the Zealots who, working towards the expulsion of the Romans, regarded the tax-collectors as leeches working against the Jewish people. On top of all this the Pharisees and Sadducees poured scorn on them for being irreligious and sinners by enacting abridged or contrary versions of festivals and rituals.
Yet all this was possible, for the town of Capernaum, where Matthew lived, was a cross-roads of trade going to all points of the compass and many people of many nationalities passed through there. As a result of this influence the religious practices of the local Jewish population were more flexible. The local synagogue was often accused by Jerusalem of taking liberty with the Scriptures.
So we can see that the tax-collectors were prejudged socially, politically and spiritually; and it was from such a background that Matthew came, and against which he lived.
Matthew was chosen for apostleship by Andrew. Andrew was known as the best judge of men amongst the apostles and he chose well with Matthew. Matthew had been taught well in business matters and social etiquette, and consequently he was the only apostle of any means. We are told on page 1559 that he was gifted with the ability to make friends and to get along smoothly with a great variety of people. Thus he was appointed the financial representative of the apostles. It appears that he went about his work in a quiet manner, yet espoused the teachings of Jesus extremely well, for most of the time the donations he received kept the apostleship afloat. Additionally, he probably presented himself well, since we are told that he obtained most of the funds from the well-to-do.
When Matthew was accepted by Jesus and the apostles, he was overwhelmingly grateful to them, for at last he was regarded as an individual instead of being cast as a member of a despised sub-class of society.
It is of interest why he, with a healthy income, family and good social connections, would turn his back on all this and join a fledgling group of religionists with destiny unknown. For Matthew was a precise man who dealt in facts and figures – that being his trade: everything had to be in balance. Why would he do this?
I can only conclude that although he had a comfortable material life he also possessed a strong spiritual longing for which he could not find any satisfaction.
Matthew was one who knocked and entered. His gratitude was emphasised by his loyalty to Jesus and the apostles in his capacity as the financial representative. In fact he did so well that his loyalty and devotedness quickly dispelled any ill-thoughts by the other apostles. At great sacrifice to himself, many times he would be away on his financial errands when Jesus and the apostles partook of enlightening conversations. At other times he stayed to hear Jesus fully knowing that in doing so, he would have to give from his own purse towards the apostolic fund. Wisely the money was given in somebody else’s name so the apostles would not regard it as being tainted. When some of the other apostles were having a go at him, he desired to tell them how much of his own wealth he was giving towards their upkeep, but he couldn’t, and tactfully said nothing.
Now, at times, all the apostles went out with one other to train themselves in preaching and getting to know how others responded to their message. One time, Matthew’s partner was Philip and a notable incident occurred when they were to secure lodging at a Samaritan or gentile village. The villagers intensely resented their presence because of their being Jewish, and were thus chased out unceremoniously. This incident may have contributed to Matthew’s decision to initially preach the gospel of Jesus only to the Jews. Yet this was in spite of Jesus’ first and last commandment to Matthew to love your fellow man, no matter who they may be, and that the gospel was to be given to all peoples. Many times Jesus had to relate to the apostles the story of the Good Samaritan.
Even so his loyalty to Jesus grew into love, and thus his faith grew. Within only two weeks since meeting Jesus for the first time, he could already truly say,
“…the more you truly understand some people, the less you admire them, but of this man, even the less I comprehend him, the more I love him.” [Paper 138:7.6, page 1545:0]
From Jesus he began to realise that faith was all one required to enter the kingdom of God, although the other apostles’ concepts of the kingdom of God varied greatly to what Jesus taught. Faith carried Matthew and the others through many a crisis and dashed expectations. When he saw how faith helped so many downcast individuals, it left an indelible impression on him.
Although Matthew appeared to lead a balanced life in many respects, his spiritual side vacillated wildly. Mainly this manifested itself at times when his idea of biblical prophecy coincided to those actions of Jesus at a given time. He had great trouble seeing that Jesus was not going to be the King of Israel and was not going to sit on the throne of a new Jerusalem, master of all nations. He could not see the kingdom through the eyes of the spirit. His spiritual expectations, as well as his emotional, were particularly highlighted during Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem sitting astride a donkey. When he remembered the scripture in Zecheriah where it is said that the king will enter Jerusalem on a donkey, he became ecstatic with his excitement building up to a crescendo when they reached the temple.
Alas, when nothing came of his expectations, Matthew was spiritually and emotionally drained to such a degree that the confusion and tension left him thoroughly exhausted. This inability to perceive the kingdom plus his religious background and material mindedness may also have helped to bring about his decision to preach only to the Jews at first. His results in acquiring funds from the gentiles were so poor that he apparently didn’t give them much hope of accepting Jesus’ teachings at all. His continuous misconstruing of the gospel made him regard that the Jews only were the lost children of God, and that they were the sinners.
All this Jesus knew very well for he entreated Matthew personally, even up to the very end, to have mercy on all of God’s children and to be firm and consistent always in proclaiming the gospel.
These flaws and the ensuing shock of the crucifixion gave him more trouble than others. Right up to Jesus’ morontia appearances he was too busy in thinking about how to find funds for the apostles. It was not without good reason that Jesus, during his morontia appearance, questioned Matthew whether it… “is in your heart to obey me?” [192:2.12, 2049:3]
Eventually, when the spirit of truth descended on him at the time of Pentecost, he did obey and with renewed vigour preached and baptised throughout the gentile lands.
The most vivid illustration of Matthew’s life is that we can see a person whose life direction changes dramatically when one chooses to follow the teachings of Jesus. Before the start of his apostleship he was spiritually rejected and caught in a materialistic lifestyle, whereas at the end of his apostleship on Earth he had rejected material obligations and supplanted them with a new-found spiritual zeal.
In Matthew’s inclusion as an apostle we will always have an example of God’s mercy in accepting anyone if they have faith in their heart. All social outcasts and the spiritually downhearted found much rejoicing and encouragement when they saw a hated tax-gatherer close to Jesus side.
To future generations, by demonstrating the love of God, the Father and his love of mankind, he gave a good reckoning in how to conduct financial affairs with an ethical basis and all this through an innocence of faith, for that is all he had in the beginning.