Acts 1:15-26; John 15:1, 6-16
This is the feast day of St. Matthias, the Apostle… and there’s little to be said about him. Even our opening prayer, the Collect, identifies him by who he is not: Matthias is not Judas, the false apostle. (1) Matthias replaces Judas. There is no mention of Matthias in the gospels; there is only the briefest mention of Matthias in the Acts of the Apostles, our first reading today. There we hear that Matthias had been present at the Jordan River on the day of Christ’s baptism and that he was sent out to participate in Jesus’ public ministry. What else is only a guess. Only that beyond the original 12 apostles, Jesus created a circle of 70 followers – also called “disciples” – and we could infer that Matthias was probably among the 70. We could infer Matthias was present at the crucifixion, and we could infer that he was a witness to the resurrection… but we don’t know for sure. (2)
Following Judas’ betrayal and suicide, to fill the space, the disciples drew lots – a common practice in Jesus’ day in matters of discernment – and Matthias won the draw. What we don’t know is how the apostles came down to two particular “candidates” – one being Matthias. Was it that Matthias was incredibly charismatic, was he an eloquent preacher or effectual healer, did he manifest great leadership potential among the disciples, have lots of energy? We don’t know; we’re not told. My hunch is no.
In the wake of a cataclysmic tragedy, individuals and groups are left feeling wounded and vulnerable; they quite naturally recoil to safety and are reticent to take unnecessary risks. The eleven apostles were obviously rocked to their core by the crucifixion of Jesus. They were also shaken, perhaps shamed, by their own culpability in their desertion, their cowering for safety, their even denying they knew Jesus. And what about Judas? Judas had betrayed not only Jesus but also them.
And then there was Peter, who was so headstrong. And James and John, with greatly inflated egos, now deflated. (3) And there was also Thomas, who walked to beat of a different drummer. (4) Just trying to read into the dynamics of the eleven apostles, I don’t imagine they would be looking for a charismatic, radical personality to fill the void left by Judas; they would be more inclined to look for dependability. Which is the only thing that is said about Matthias in the scriptures. We hear in the Acts of the Apostles of Matthias’ being “one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us….” (5) In the language of today’s gospel lesson, Matthias had chosen “to abide with Christ,” a simple yet deep commitment, loyalty, perseverance, availability to Christ. (6)
The other reason that I think Matthias was not a spectacular person is that by the time the lot was drawn, something was beginning to happen to those original eleven apostles. The apostles who, in the early gospels, so often appear slow on the uptake, who are duplicitous and factious and cowering, turn into zealous, un-silenceable, fearless, power-filled believers in the resurrection of Christ, well prepared for the prospect of their own martyrdom. Matthias would have fit the bill for St. Paul when he writes: “Consider your own call, brothers and sisters: not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, so that no one might boast in the presence of God.” Tradition has it that Matthias died quite willingly like the rest of them in martyrdom.
Down through the ages, the church has remembered Matthias. Not much about him, mind you, but maybe that’s the point. So few of us are Olympians. Most of us are just folks who, by God’s grace, grow into adulthood by fits and starts. We live life on this earth for just a season, and then return to God: earth to earth, dust to dust, ashes to ashes. And God who creates us knows us and loves us, as we are. What more could God want of any of us than what, it seems, Matthias witnesses for us: the abiding qualities of commitment, loyalty, perseverance, availability, neediness for God in the days that God has given us to live and serve. (7) Blessed Matthias, whom we remember today.
- The Collect of the Day: “Almighty God, who in the place of Judas chose your faithful servant Matthias to be numbered among the Twelve: Grant that your Church, being delivered from false apostles, may always be guided and governed by faithful and true pastors; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.”
- The seventy disciples are discussed in Luke 10:1-20.
- Matthew 10:21; Mark 10:36-38,
- See John 11:11-16; John 14: 1-6; John 20:24-29.
- Acts 1:21.
- John 15:1, 4-5: “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower. …If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.”
- 1 Corinthians 1:26-29.
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