St. Matthew, one of the Twelve Apostles, was originally a tax collector in the city of Capernaum. Many local tax collectors (known as “publicans” in some Bible translations) were known to be corrupt, demanding more money from the people than the Romans required and keeping the difference for themselves. This, and their apparent lack of patriotism, made them hated figures in first-century Palestine.
Whether or not he was dishonest, Matthew eagerly accepted Christ’s invitation to follow Him. The call of Matthew is described in St. Mark’s Gospel (2:13-17). Matthew, also known as Levi, the son of Alphaeus, was at his tax collector’s post when Jesus said to him, “Follow Me.” Matthew did so without a moment’s hesitation. Later, Matthew invited Jesus and the disciples to dine at his home. Jesus’ acceptance of the invitation caused great rejoicing among Matthew’s friends (many themselves publicly despised as tax collectors, prostitutes, and sinners). When the Pharisees objected, Jesus said, “I have come to call sinners, not the self-righteous.”
Matthew was present for all the major events of Christ’s life. Little is known about St. Matthew’s life after Jesus’ death and Resurrection. There are various legends regarding his missionary activity and subsequent martyrdom. Ethiopia and Persia are two of the places mentioned as sites of his death.