[Texts: Acts 1:15-17, 21-26, Psalm 1, 1 John 5:9-13, John 17:6-19]
Jesus ascended into Heaven forty days after his resurrection, leaving his apostles—under the leadership of St. Peter—in charge of his growing group of followers on earth.
They had a problem, though: with Judas no longer among them, there were only eleven apostles.
So, they set out to rectify this problem. They asked God to help them choose a new apostle to fill Judas’s spot. The man’s name was Matthias, and to be honest, we don’t know much else about him. We don’t hear anything about him again in scripture. He’s never mentioned again.
I thought that was a little disappointing. I mean, St. Luke (who presumably wrote the Book of Acts) went to the effort of telling us in painstaking detail how Matthias was selected, and then neither he nor any other Biblical author says another word about the guy. I feel like I got to know some of the other apostles through the stories in the Gospel accounts. I want to know more about Matthias—who was he as a person? Did he get along with the other apostles? Did he ever get married or have kids? Was he, like St. Peter, prone to putting his foot in his mouth? What did he do before he was an apostle—was he a fisherman? A tax collector? A professional camel groomer? Come on, St. Luke, at least give me something to work with here!
We don’t know anything about Matthias, but we do know what he was being asked to do: replace Judas as the twelfth disciple. Yikes. Kind of a loaded thing to ask someone to do, isn’t it? Can you imagine being Matthias? Can you imagine being called to fill the shoes of Judas, the most despised man in all of history? I mean, on the one hand, it might be comforting to know there was no possible way you could be anything but an improvement on your predecessor, right? But at the same time, I can’t imagine what it would be like to have such a dark legacy hanging over your head.
Actually, we do know one thing about Matthias: through the remaining apostles, he was called by God to fill his role in the community of faith. And we also know he accepted the call. And you know what? Maybe that’s all we need to know. He was called, and he responded faithfully.
We also know something about the other eleven apostles: they accepted him. Rather than stewing in anger and bitterness over what Judas had done, and refusing to trust anyone else again, they opened up their hearts and their ears and listened to God. Faithfully, they did something that must have been terrifying—they accepted a newcomer into their ranks, despite just having witnessed his predecessor commit the ultimate act of betrayal just weeks earlier. Rather than circling the wagons and being exclusive in the wake of their hurt, they allowed God to do something new.
Twelve had always been an important number to the people of God—there had been twelve tribes of Israel, remember? And if the Church was to become the new Israel, God’s new nation, it didn’t make much sense to only have eleven apostles.
That twelfth spot had gained an ugly history—and, had Matthias not been called to fill it, that empty position might have always been a source of trauma, bitterness, and sorrow for the remaining apostles, since they would have always seen it as a symbol of the horrible betrayal they’d all endured at the hands of Judas.
But God had other plans. Rather than allowing that number-twelve spot to remain a symbol of betrayal and sin, God instead chose to redeem it. God called someone to bring new life to the community of the apostles. God chose to breathe new life where there had been death. God chose to make complete what had been lacking, to make whole what had been fractured, and to make full by grace what sin had emptied.
God chose to bring about this amazing work of redemption through Saint Matthias, who responded with faithfulness to God’s call.
And he also used eleven other men: Saint Simon Peter, Saint Andrew, Saint James the son of Zebedee and his brother, Saint John the son of Zebedee, Saint Phillip, Saint Thomas, Saint Andrew, Saint Matthew, Saint James the son of Alpheus, Saint Thaddeus, Saint Simon the Zealot, and Saint Bartholomew. Let’s not discount their role. They were also obedient and faithful in inviting a newcomer to join them, and accepting him as one of them. They put aside their own pain, bitterness, and anger and opened themselves up to God’s dream of wholeness and redemption.
Then the twelve apostles, including Matthias, went into all the world preaching, teaching, healing, and making disciples—loving people, including people, embracing people, and being faithful to God, even when that meant martyrdom. They brought countless people around the world the Good News of Christ. The Church grew by leaps and bounds, even in the face of persecution. And it all began with the act of welcoming a newcomer.
What new and incredible thing might begin in this place—in your parish, in your community, in your diocese, in your country, in the world—if we all dared to follow in the footsteps of the apostles, welcoming with love everyone whom God calls to live and serve our midst?