Posted on February 24th, 2010
Dearly beloved, we have entered the season of Lent, a time for solemnity, fasting, lamenting our sins, and meditating on the sufferings of our Lord Jesus. Yet today is the festival of St. Matthias, thus no weeping is allowed on this day, for it is a day of joy and gladness, when we remember the number of the Apostles being filled.
The Acts of the Apostles which we heard read tells us that “The company of persons was in all about 120.” 12 x 10. Twelve, the number of the tribes of Israel, multiplied by ten, a number of completeness. These 120 were new Israel. Yet they were incomplete. Only eleven of the original twelve chosen disciples remained. Judas, the son of perdition, was lost. On this day we remember him too, with deep sorrow. His memory serves as a warning that we too, who are numbered among the disciples of Jesus, can fall and be lost.
He must be replaced, that the number of Apostles would stand at twelve, for on the Day of Pentecost shortly at hand, new Israel would have to confront old Israel, the twelve tribes who had crucified the Lord. As this new Israel read the sacred writings of the Hebrew Bible, what we now call the Old Testament, they saw it entirely in relation to Christ. Thus, words about the enemies of David, “May his camp become desolate,” and, “Let another take his office,” are now seen, in the fulness of time, as referring to Judas. The Psalms are not David’s but the Holy Spirit’s, and they point to Christ, His suffering, His death, His resurrection.
So in choosing the replacement for Judas, the eleven remaining Apostles set forth the parameters of apostleship: He needs to have been with them in the greater company of the disciples from the time of John’s Baptism through the Ascension, and he needs to be a man. All for the purpose of being a witness to the resurrection.
What can we learn from the process of how the replacement for Judas was selected? They began with the parameters for the office, and selected candidates that fit those parameters. Then, they left it to “chance,” except they did not understand it as such. They saw the providence of God at work in the choice. It also has the great benefit of excluding favoritism and politicking from the procedure, thus fostering and preserving harmony in the church. Doubtless Matthew, Peter, John, and so on each had a favorite, but instead, after exercising reason and then praying, they allowed God to make the choice through the casting of lots, the same way the parcels of land were given out when the twelve tribes entered the promised land.
Perhaps we should consider choosing our pastors in this way. Determine which candidates fit the parameters, pray earnestly for God’s blessing, and then let God decide the matter.
Throughout the Gospels there was constant controversy among the disciples as to which of them was the greatest. Doubtless there were men there among the 70 that were sent out by Jesus to preach the kingdom, who aspired to be chosen. Perhaps some of the notable women were desirous of a position of honor. But in the selection of Matthias we hear of no controversy, no disputing. The choice was made by casting lots, and they perceived it to be the work of the Holy Spirit, and there was harmony among them, love, and unity of purpose. It is a beautiful testament to the power of Christ’s resurrection, that the disciples were so changed that they argued and quarreled no more amongst themselves as they previously did.
Everything had changed. Power and prestige were not what mattered, but the resurrection of Jesus. These holy Apostles stood not as community organizers, moral or social reformers, princes, executives, therapists, or teachers of earthly wisdom. They were eyewitnesses of the resurrection. How does this apply to us? How can we be joined to this glorious band of 120 faithful? We recognize and affirm that the church’s doctrine and practice is not determined by our ideas, what we think is clever or enlightened or new, but on what the apostles handed down. The central article of the Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church is that of Jesus’ death and the witness to His resurrection.
We know little about how Matthias particularly witnessed to our Lord. We believe he went to Ethiopia to preach, and perhaps also Armenia. It appears he was martyred for the faith in the year 50. Beyond that, it is difficult to sift truth from legends. But one sentence about Matthias from an ancient source stands out: “He exhausted his body by mortification to make his spirit subject to the Crucified” (Clement of Alexandria). Matthias witnessed both Jesus’ death and His victory over death. And therefore, Matthias is said to have lived dead to this world. Beloved, that is what our observance of Lent is driving home for us as well. We are too much alive to this things of this life, and too much dead to the things of God. As we walk with our Lord in the way of the cross, may the Holy Spirit help us to renounce our bodily lusts, so our spirits may be subject to the Crucified One, our Lord Jesus. Because we know that though we die, we who have received this Eucharist will live, and even now the power of His life and His forgiveness fills us in this blessed Sacrament. For already in Holy Baptism, the lot of the Holy Spirit fell on us, selecting us for absolution and everlasting life, entirely by the gift of His grace.