14 May, 2019. St Matthias, Apostle
St Matthias, apostle
1st Reading: Acts 1:15-17; 20-26
Matthias is selected to take the place of Judas Iscariot
In those days Peter stood up among the believers (together the crowd numbered about one hundred twenty persons) and said, “Friends, the scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit through David foretold concerning Judas, who became a guide for those who arrested Jesus—for he was numbered among us and was allotted his share in this ministry. For it is written in the book of Psalms, “Let his homestead become desolate, and let there be nobody to live in it;’ and “Let another take his position of overseer.”
So one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us—one of these must become a witness with us to his resurrection.” So they proposed two, Joseph called Barsabbas, who was also known as Justus, and Matthias. Then they prayed and said, “Lord, you know everyone’s heart. Show us which one of these two you have chosen to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place.” And they cast lots for them, and the lot fell on Matthias; and he was added to the eleven apostles.
Responsorial: Psalm 113
R.: The Lord will give him a seat with the leaders of his people
Praise, you servants of the Lord,
praise the name of the Lord.
Blessed be the name of the Lord
both now and forever. (R./)
From the rising to the setting of the sun
is the name of the Lord to be praised.
High above all nations is the Lord;
above the heavens is his glory. (R./)
Who is like the Lord, our God, who is enthroned on high
and looks upon the heavens and the earth below? (R./)
He raises up the lowly from the dust;
from the dunghill he lifts up the poor
To seat them with princes,
with the princes of his own people. (R./)
Gospel: John 15:9-17
Life flows between the Vine and the Branches
Jesus said to his disciples:
As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.
“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.”
Filling a vital vacancy
Matthias came late to be listed among the apostles. The essential requirement was to be an eyewitness to the resurrection. Matthias had followed Jesus from the start. Perhaps, like some of the other apostles, he had earlier belonged to the group around John the Baptist. Certainly he left his home and occupation when Jesus entered into his life, and followed our Lord on his travels. He heard the words spoken by Christ in the Sermon on the Mount, and the further teachings given from the boat drawn out from the shore. He saw the sick being healed and evil being cast out; how the dead were raised and the lame walked and the crowds were fed through the miraculous multiplication of loaves and fishes.
Matthias stayed with Jesus even when other disciples “turned back and no longer went about with him” (Jn 6:66). He may have heard Jesus say that one of the Twelve would betray him, but while he persevered and listened and believed, he could not foresee that he would be the one to replace the traitorous Judas. The church historian Eusebius wrote that Matthias was enrolled by the Lord Himself into the group of seventy-two disciples, from which the smaller group of twelve were chosen as apostles. What is striking about the selection of Matthias is the method by which the apostles sought to discover the divine will; they cast lots, a traditional form used by believing Jews. Casting lots was well established in the Old Testament: the Promised Land was divided up by lot among the various tribes and families; the choosing of Saul as the king was also determined by lot
Of the two candidates between whom the great decison was to be made, Matthias was noticeably placed second. Joseph, called Barsabbas-the son of Sabbas-as unknown to us as Matthias, was placed in the first place with the honourable Roman surname Justus – from the Latin, “the righteous, or upright, one.” One might conjecture that there were those present at the election who, had the decision been left up to them, would have chosen Joseph as the apostle. But the will of God was otherwise. Why? “You, Lord, know the hearts of all.” Humble and serious, the pensive Matthias took the place abandoned by Judas. Now he was one of the Twelve, an apostle chosen by Christ to continue and perpetuate His work on earth until the end of time, for all mankind. He belonged to the Twelve, modelled on the twelve tribes of Israel, the foundation stones of Jerusalem.
As soon as Matthias was chosen as an apostle, he fell back into obscurity. He experienced with the others the fiery and joyful grace of Pentecost. And with the others he suffered arrest and scourging by the Jewish leaders, and rejoiced that he “had been counted worthy to suffer disgrace for the name of Jesus.” He journeyed and preached and healed, but not a single word more was dedicated to him in Holy Scripture. He was simply one of the Twelve.
Taking our own place
After Judas abandoned Jesus, the team of twelve apostles was reduced to eleven. It was important to revive the full team and fill the vacancy, because that number twelve was very significant. Israel consisted of twelve tribes and the twelve selected by Jesus were the nucleus of the new Israel, the revived people of God that would consist of Jews and non-Jews. Matthias was the one chosen to replace Judas and to restore the integrity of the original twelve.
It was continuity mingled with difference. Whereas the original twelve were chosen by Jesus, it was up to the apostles to choose a replacement for Judas. How would they go about it? They understood that it would need to be someone who witnessed the public ministry of Jesus from the time of his baptism up to the ascension. Having nominated two suitable people from among the larger body of disciples they prayed asking the Lord to show them which of the two he had chosen. This is an interesting mixture of human judgement and submission to divine guidance. Those early disciples used their judgement and discernment but they also realized that they needed to ask for enlightenment from God. In our own lives we also need both. We have to use our judgment and experience to see what steps to take; and equally, we entrust ourselves to the Lord in prayer.