Matthew the Priest ?

Matthew was always going to be a priest. His father was a fisherman who had made a lot of money and owned his own boat. Later he acquired another boat and all his sons worked both boats, in cheerful competition. However, there was one clever one in the family, who loved reading and studying. He looked forwards to Saturday when they all went to the synagogue.

Matthew the Student

He was thrilled when his father got him a place at the school of the priesthood, where he lived in the Temple precincts with the other students. They studied the Law of Moses and the history of Israel. Then there were all the prophets and the Psalms. How he loved the beauty of the poetry and all the ways of expressing feelings before God. He became fluent in Ancient Hebrew as well as Greek. They also had to learn about all the ceremonies, the sacrifices, the ritual cleansings, the way they welcomed the seasons.

Matthew the Malcontent?

At first Matthew was in his element, but gradually he became disillusioned. The priests seemed to apply the Law in such a legalistic way. How else should any laws be interpreted? He thought there was such a thing as mercy and something called justice. His teachers seemed to have no idea of the realities of life that ordinary people had to cope with. Apart from that, he found the experts in the Law had a remarkable ability at interpreting it so as to allow them to do what they wanted. There was always an exception they could use to excuse themselves. His teachers and mentors were not what they should be.

An answer for Matthew?

After a while he spoke to one of the few whom he admired: Gamaliel. He said priests were only human. They needed to make sacrifices for their own sins as well as those of the people. The student was being too much of a perfectionist. He tried to bear this advice in mind. However, what he found was more than a natural human failing here and there. The whole institution of the priesthood was rotten to its core. Most of the priests were greedy. Not content with the tithes and offerings they were entitled to, they never ceased to find ways of adding to their income, usually at the expense of ordinary working people.

Matthew’s Faith

The worst of it was the lack of faith. The priests seemed interested only in what they could get away with or what they could do to turn a situation to their advantage. They loved power and authority as well as money. What nobody asked was what God wanted. They did not seem to love God or fear Him. They laughed at those who did, such as Gamaliel and Nicodemus, behind their backs, sometimes, even to their faces. As for the Messiah – that was a myth that was useful to keep the people in order. All will be well when the Messiah comes, never mind how illtreated you are now by the Romans or by the Jewish authorities.

Matthew the Tax Collector

Matthew finally came to the conclusion that there was no God. The Law and the prophecies were just human inventions.  He did the only thing I could do. Quit. He soon found another way to make use of his abilities. He became a tax-collector. They were hated by many for serving the Romans and for breaking lots of God’s laws, but so what? They were making as much money as the priests without the hypocrisy. He had a good time. In a way. But he couldn’t quite forget all he had learnt about righteousness and sin.

Matthew’s Nickname

When they found out about his past, his colleagues nicknamed him ‘Levi’ for the Levitical priesthood he had abandoned. He didn’t mind much, but it reminded him of the Law he was not so much breaking as dismissing. What if any of it was true? Usually he put such doubts aside and got on with making money and spending it.

Matthew and the Messiah

One day Matthew was collecting taxes, mainly from a lot of fishermen. He knew they were often as slippery as what they caught. A man came among them and began preaching. Most rabbis taught in the Temple or the synagogue, but he was talking to people at their workplaces and in everyday Aramaic, not the classical Hebrew of the scholars. This man believed everything Matthew had one believed but he made it make sense. He said the Law had to be interpreted with some common sense. “The Sabbath was made for Man, not Man for the Sabbath.” That was a good one!

Matthew’s Conversion

As Matthew listened to his preaching and his replies to those who had questions, he began to have second thoughts – or do I mean third thoughts? – about the Law and the prophets. Some said this was the Messiah. He got to know him and even took him to a party with some of his colleagues. No rabbi or priest would have set foot among such unclean characters, but he didn’t mind. He talked and laughed with them but he also explained a lot about the scriptures and about God as if he knew Him. At last Matthew knew that everything he had once believed, everything he had wanted to believe, was all true.

Matthew’s Mission

Suddenly he didn’t want to be a tax-collector any more, neither did he want to be a priest. He had found the Truth and this man, the Messiah, said “The Truth shall set you free!” He followed him and wrote down his teaching so he could pass it on.

Note: I have looked at the historicity of the gospels before. I have also written short stories. But I have never previously linked the two.

The cover of Geoffrey's Historical Shorts. Matthew does not appear in these!

Matthew does not appear in these!