Friday, 14 May 2010

Saint Matthias – the walk-on apostle

Saint Matthias in a roof boss in Saint Helen’s Church, Bishopsgate, Norwich

Patrick Comerford

Isaiah 22: 15-25; Psalm 15; Acts 1: 15-26; John 15: 9-17

May I speak to you in the name of God, + Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen.

Saint Matthias, our reading from the Acts of the Apostles tells us, was chosen by the remaining eleven among the disciples to take the place of Judas Iscariot.

Why did they choose Matthias? After all, there is no mention of a Matthias among the lists of disciples or followers of Christ in the synoptic Gospels.

According to Acts 1, the first act of the Apostles immediately after the Ascension – and today is the day after Ascension Day – Peter proposed to the assembled disciples, who numbered about 120, that they choose one to fill the place of Judas.

So they proposed two men: Joseph called Barsabbas, who was also known as Justus, and Matthias. Then they prayed: “Lord, you know everyone’s heart. Show us which of these two you have chosen to take over this apostolic ministry, which Judas left to go where he belongs.”

Then they cast lots, and the lot fell to Matthias. And so he was added to the eleven apostles.

And then, surprisingly – having made an unexpected entrance on the stage – Matthias walks off the scene once again. And we hear nothing more about him. There is no further information about him in the New Testament.

Even his name is variable: the Syriac version of Eusebius calls him not Matthias but “Tolmai” – not to be confused with Bartholomew, the Son of Tolmai, who was one of the original twelve. Clement of Alexandria says some identified him with Zacchaeus. And there are many more theories and speculations.

One tradition says Matthias first preached the Gospel in Judaea, then to the “barbarians and meat-eaters” or in “the city of cannibals” in Aethiopia, which is identified with present-day Georgia.

Another tradition says he was stoned to death in Jerusalem and then beheaded.

But that still does not explain why this man – who is mentioned nowhere in the Gospels, and makes no further impact on the story of the Apostolic Church in the New Testament – was chosen to join the Twelve.

Clement of Alexandria points out helpfully that none of the Twelve became apostles through their own merits. No-one earned the right to become an apostle. After all, he points out, Judas was chosen to be among them too. They are disciples not on their merits, or how other people see or judge them.

It is not that the remaining eleven went for a safe pair of hands, an easy option … What mattered in those days immediately after the Ascension, was the Matthias, who was joining the Twelve, has been a follower of Christ before anyone even recognised who he was, that he stayed with Christ when he made enemies, and that he believed in him through the events of the Passion, Death and Resurrection.

Matthias was elected not because he was worthy but because he would become worthy. Christ chooses each one of us in the same way, you and me.

What do others think of you?

Does it matter?

It does not matter whether others think you have been too early or too late in responding to the call to ordained ministry.

It does not matter whether you’re worthy in the eyes of others for any office or position you hold.

What matters more throughout your ministry is going to be: What does Christ want of you?

And so, may all we think, say and do be to the praise, honour and glory of God, + Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen.

The Collect of the Day:

Almighty God,
who in the place of the traitor Judas
chose your faithful servant Matthias
to be of the number of the Twelve:
Preserve your Church from false apostles
and, by the ministry of faithful pastors and teachers,
keep us steadfast in your truth;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Post-Communion Prayer:

Lord God,
the source of truth and love,
Keep us faithful to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship,
united in prayer and the breaking of bread,
and one in joy and simplicity of heart,
in Jesus Christ our Lord.

Canon Patrick Comerford is Director of Spiritual Formation, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, and a canon of Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin. This reflection was shared at the early morning Eucharist in the institute chapel on Saint Matthias Day, 14 May 2010.