We know nothing. Four hundred years of nothing.
Most bibles have a blank page between the last book of the old testament (Malachi) and the first book of the New testament (Matthew). That blank page represents 400 years of silence, of Jewish exile, and oppression.
Imagine growing up your entire life being taught that you are a member of God’s chosen people. That you are special above all others because you were born a Jew. You are a proud people who find your identity not just in the accomplishments of your ancestors, but in being God’s select few!
And yet here you are — a fisherman, a laborer, a peasant — subjected to humiliation and oppression by a foreign nation. To add insult to injury, your oppressors employ your fellow Jews — almost as collaborators — in their oppressive scheme. Their job is to collect the taxes levied by the Romans.
These tax collectors have betrayed their Jewish blood to aid and abet a brutal, demoralizing ruler. The oppression you experience is, in part, enabled by their efforts to enrich themselves. In your eyes and in your heart, these traitors can never atone for the sins they’ve committed against God’s people and, thus, against God Himself. You hate them.
Truth be told, Matthew probably hated himself too. He despised what he’d become. I imagine he felt isolated from his people, and thus, far from God.
My guess is that Matthew began life with greater ambitions than becoming a tax collector. Maybe his family expected him to become a renowned member of the religious elite, or at least a rabbi. And when that didn’t pan out, at least a wealthy businessman.
But somewhere along the path, Matthew went astray. Maybe he saw a shortcut to wealth and power? He could have been looking to garner respect, albeit respect that hides contempt. Regardless, in his isolation as a despised outcast he felt empty.
He had nice robes, had a house worthy of hosting guests (even if they were just other tax collectors), and could afford to host feasts. Matthew’s material reach was not lacking. But there must have been some part of him that felt empty, lost, and yearning to give it all back.
However, unlike a leper that had been healed, Matthew could never have been reconciled on his own with the Jews for his transgressions. He was the least of the Jews.
And since all sins are equal, our sins are no greater than those of Matthew.
Yet, Jesus sought after him. And He asked Matthew to be a disciple.