Matthew, also called Levi (his Jewish name), was a tax collector, also called a publican, and came from Galilee. By all accounts of history and cultural context, Matthew was among the worst of sinners because of his profession. He was in a profession deemed by the Roman Empire as a tax collector, which in turn, would treat any non-Roman citizens, mainly, Jews unfairly. He was surprisingly humble and never tried to gain the spotlight in his life- at least nothing is recorded- probably because of his profession. Tax collectors were the most despised people in Israel and placed on the same level as prostitutes and harlots. They were hated by Jews even more than Romans because they extorted money from those in Israel to give to the Romans. They were basically scoundrels.
When Matthew was called by Jesus and immediately followed Jesus. The position of being a tax collector, those despised by every Jew, was a “good job” to have in the eyes of the Romans. It was clear that if he left he would not have a job to return to- there was no turning back for him. When Jesus chose him, Mathew realized that a Rabbi- the Messiah- chose him in spite of his past and lifestyle. It was shocking to him that a teacher would love him and accept him because he would have already been outcasted from every synagogue; he was considered a traitor to the Jews and forbidden to enter any synagogue. Being called by Jesus gave him hope in his life. His call also proved that even though he was not allowed in the synagogue, he studied scripture and knew of the coming Messiah. His desperation opened his eyes to accepting the Messiah and immediately following him without doubt. It was a radical conversion. Matthew was so excited that he found the Messiah that he held a banquet for Jesus (and the other disciples). However the party consisted of only tax collectors and lowlifes because those are the only people that would actually associate with a tax collector. The Pharisees didn’t like Jesus spending time with the “sinners” however they were radically changed by the love of Jesus.
In Matthew’s Gospel account, he made it clear that he knew the scriptures- he quoted the Old Testament 99 times, more than any other Gospel. It proved that he knew the Old Testament and loved it which also proves that he was hungry for the Messiah. It explains why he left immediately to follow Jesus- he knew that Jesus was the real Messiah! Matthew embraced the outcasts of the world. He even wrote his Gospel directed toward the Jewish audience as a way to show the need to love the “sinner”. All accounts of Matthew’s life after Jesus say he took the Gospel to the Jews and that he was martyred for his faith, however, the way in which he died is unclear.
Matthew reconciled with his past and let Christ change him. Will you?