Only one gospel tells the story of the magi, strangers and sojourners who came and paid homage to the newborn Jesus. This account is found in Matthew, perhaps, because as a tax collector, and so hated in Israel, he knew what it meant to be an outcast. We don’t know if Luke, the other synoptic gospel writer who tells of Jesus’ birth, knew of the magi and discounted their importance. We know simply that Matthew included the story in his gospel, written around the year 80 AD. Just as unlikely as having travelers from the east bowing down before Jesus is having Matthew chosen by Jesus to be a disciple. (You can read the story in Matthew 9: 9-13. Keep in mind that Mark and Luke call him Levi.)
These thugs were understandably hated.
Jesus sees Matthew working and calls him to follow. They go to Matthew’s house where they are joined at table by “many tax collectors and sinners.” The Pharisees are as shocked as we would no doubt be. Remember that tax collectors were responsible for sending a certain amount of tax money to Rome each year. Whatever they could beat or extort or steal over and above the required sum was theirs to keep. These thugs were understandably hated. When people asked Jesus how he could call such a man, Jesus answered, “Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do.” (In an interview Pope Francis said he related to Matthew.)
We know very little of Matthew’s later life. The Church says he died a martyr in Ethiopia. Other sources have him martyred in Persia (now Iran) while still others say Greece, Germany, Syria and Judea. Matthew is shown in iconography as a winged man, perhaps suggesting that even the sickest and most sinful can, in Christ, take wing and fly into the very heart of God. If you are celebrating a Matthew’s feast day, consider filling small bags with gold covered chocolate coins and give one to each guest. The coins remind us of the shameful way Matthew earned his living and the gold foil reminds us of the true treasure he found in Christ.