Three Cheers for...Matthias?

The Feast of Matthias, Apostle falls on May 14. How are you celebrating this year? Matthias, according to Luke in Acts of the Apostles 1:15-26, was chosen to fill the place abandoned by Judas. And that is the first and last we hear of Matthias in the New Testament. The passage is intriguing at many levels. It is clear, for instance, that Pentecost would not take place until the 11 apostles were restored to 12, for the 12 are symbolic of the restored Israel, essential to Jesus’ prophetic scenario of the future. Peter himself notes biblical passages that speak of the need to fill Judas’ place in the ministry (Acts 1:20 cites Ps. 69:25 and 109:8). So, the scene of Matthias being chosen is essential for the development of the plot, but the character, we might say, is not developed. Matthias is also chosen by lot, though we do not know for certain how the lots were cast. It might seem like a strange way to perceive God’s way - luck be a lady tonight? - but it does have a pedigree in the history of Judaism, especially amongst Priests and Kings (see 1 Sam. 14:36-42; Num. 27:21; and Deut. 33:8), and it was seen as a discernment of God’s way, not gambling or luck. It does make me reflect, however, on Joseph called Barsabbas, who was also known as Justus. How did it feel to be that close to being an apostle? Did he regale his friends and family with stories of how he was almost an apostle? Did he resent not being chosen? Or did he simply accept this as God’s sovereign choice? Both he and Matthias were chosen from amongst those "who accompanied us the whole time the Lord Jesus came and went among us, beginning from the baptism of John until the day on which he was taken up from us" (Acts 1:21-22). Even before the casting of lots, therefore, they were already chosen from a larger group (Acts 1:23) and Luke tells us this group is about 120 persons (Acts 1:15), though whether they all met the criteria is hard to say. It reminds us, though, that the apostles were only a small number amongst the faithful, those faithful who might not have had formal roles, who might not have been chosen for heroic or historical parts, but who carried out the task of becoming witnesses "to his resurrection" (Acts 1:22), just as the apostles did. Not many of us are chosen for world-historical roles, not then and not now, but God knows that we each have roles to play, for which we alone have been chosen, whether to be the one who was almost an apostle or to be the last apostle amongst the 12, about whom nobody knows. The prize we await is not fame, wealth or earthly glory, but a heavenly destiny, so Joseph called Barsabbas, who was also known as Justus is not an ancient prototype of Pete Best, a model of what might have been. It’s not what we might have been, but what we are called to be, who we indeed are. So, three cheers for Matthias, and Justus, and all those who labor in God’s vineyard, anonymously and quietly. John W. Martens
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