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AMONG the Jews there was one class of men hated and despised by the people more than any other. That was "the publicans." These were the men who took from the people the tax which the Roman rulers had laid upon the land. Many of these publicans were selfish, grasping, and cruel. They robbed the people, taking more than was right. Some of them were honest men, dealing fairly, and taking no more for the tax than was needful; but because so many were wicked, all the publicans were hated alike; and they were called "sinners" by the people.
The Calling of St. Matthew
Hendrick Terbrugghen, c. 1621
Jesus said, "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick...For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.">
Matthew 9:9-13 ; Mark 2:13-17 ; Luke 5:27-32
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Calling of Matthew
Hendrick Terbrugghen, c. 1616
The Calling of Saint Matthew, Michelangelo da Caravaggio
Apostle Saint Matthew
El Greco, c.1612
One day, when Jesus was going out of Capernaum to the seaside, followed by a great crowd of people, he passed a publican or tax collector, who was seated at his table taking money from the people who came to pay their taxes. This man was named Matthew or Levi, for many Jews had two names. Jesus could look into the hearts of men, and he saw that Matthew was one who might help him as one of his disciples. He looked upon Matthew, and said, "Follow me!"
At once the publican rose up from his table, and left it to go with Jesus. All the people wondered as they saw one of the hated publicans among the disciples, with Peter, and John, and the rest. But Jesus knew that Matthew would long afterward do a work that would bless the world forever. It was this same Matthew the publican, who many years after this wrote "The Gospel according to Matthew," the book which tells us so much about Jesus, and more than any other book gives us the words that Jesus spoke to the people. Jesus chose Matthew, knowing that he would write this book. A little while after Jesus called him Matthew made a great feast for Jesus at his house; and to the feast he invited many publicans, and others whom the Jews called sinners. The Pharisees saw Jesus sitting among these people, and they said with scorn to his disciples, "Why does your Master sit at the table with publicans and sinners?"
Jesus heard of what these men had said, and he said, "Those that are well do not need a doctor to cure them, but those that are sick do need one. I go to these people because they know that they are sinners and need to be saved. I came not to call those who think themselves to be good, but those who wish to be made better."
One evening Jesus went alone to a mountain not far from Capernaum. A crowd of people and his disciples followed him; but Jesus left them all, and went up to the top of the mountain, where he could be alone. There he stayed all night, praying to God, his Father and our Father. In the morning, out of all his followers, he chose twelve men who should walk with him, and listen to his words, so that they might be able to teach others in turn. Some of these men he had called before; but now he called them again, and others with them. They were called "The Twelve," or "the disciples", and after Jesus went to heaven they were called "The Apostles," a word which means "those who were sent out," because Jesus sent them out to preach the gospel to the world.
The names of the twelve disciples, or apostles were these: Simon Peter, and his brother Andrew; James and John, the two sons of Zebedee; Philip of Bethsaida, and Nathanael, who was also called Bartholomew, a name which means "the son of Tholmai;" Thomas, who was also called Didymus, a name which means "a twin," and Matthew, the publican or tax-gatherer; another James, the son of Alphaeus, who was called "James the Less," to keep his name apart from the first James, the brother of John, and Lebbeus, who was also called Thaddeus. Lebbeus was called also Judas, but he was a different man from another Judas, whose name is always given last. The eleventh name was another Simon, who was called " the Cananaen " or " Simon Zelotes;" and the last name was Judas Iscariot, who was afterward the traitor. We know very little about most of these men, but some of them in later days did a great work. Simon Peter was a leader among them, and John, long after those times, when he was a very old man, wrote one of the most wonderful books in all the world, "The Gospel according to John," the fourth among the gospels.
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