15 May 2015

Who wants to be a second or third choice?

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

Patrick Comerford

The Church of Ireland Theological Institute

The Eucharist, 15 May 2015 (Saint Matthias)

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.

The final year students have been going through the gruelling exercise of curacy interviews over the last few days.

Sometimes, looking at the lists of scheduled interviews, it must appear like an exercise in speed-dating; at other times it must look like a mutual sales exercise, potential curates trying to sell themselves, and their dissertation titles, to rectors; rectors trying to sell themselves and their parishes to potential curates.

But how many rectors honestly say how they got on with the last, or departing curate?

Would you like to step into the shoes of the previous curate or deacon-intern in the parish you are going to? Would you like going to a parish knowing that you were the second, or even the third choice as curate?

How do you think Saint Matthias thought of being a second-ranking choice, and at that the choice to succeed Judas?

This evening we are recalling the Apostle Matthias, whose feast day normally falls on 14 May. But once again he was relegated to second place because of the way Ascension Day arrived in the Church Calendar this year [2015].

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.

Saint Matthias was the second choice – not the first choice, but the second choice – to succeed Judas.

Imagine how Matthias might have felt: the first time round, he was not good enough to be among the Twelve, but Judas was. The second time round, his name is not mentioned first; instead, the first name to come forward was that of Joseph called Barsabbas, who was also known as Justus. But nobody has remembered him ever since, and his probable saintly life has passed into oblivion. I have never heard of a child being called Barsabbas, as in: “Hey Barsabbas, your dinner’s on the table,” or “Hey Barsabbas, tidy up your room.”

And then, to compound matters, nobody has the foggiest idea who Matthias was, before or after his election: his name, his identity, his life story, have been forgotten, he has been left with being the patron saint of alcoholism and smallpox, and a few small towns, and we are not even sure where or how he died or where he is buried.

Joseph Barsabbas, or Joseph Justus, is the first choice. It may only be as an afterthought that someone suggests the name of Matthias.

And then, they cannot make up their minds. Instead, they cast lots, and the lot fell to Matthias. I doubt any of us would be happy to hear the interviewing rectors tossed a coin, drew straws or rolled a dice as they prayed about whether we were suitable to be the curate for one of their parishes.

Matthias is unnamed before this account, and after that there is no further mention of him in the New Testament. He is the forgotten apostle. Having made an unexpected entrance on the stage, Matthias walks off the scene once again. And we hear nothing more about him. We have no further information about him.

Sometimes, in Patristic writings, even his name and his identity are confused, if we read the Syriac version of Eusebius, or Clement of Alexandria, and they have different traditions about how, when and where he died or was martyred.

But Clement of Alexandria reminds us that the apostles were not chosen for some outstanding character, and certainly not for their own merits. After all, Judas was chosen as one of the Twelve, and even among the others Saint Peter denied Christ at the Crucifixion and Thomas at first denied the Resurrection.

No. They were chosen by Christ for his own reasons, and not for their merits.

If Matthias had not been worthy of being called, how then could he have joined the Twelve?

Ordained ministry is never about your worthiness or my merits. You and I have earned no right to be called to ordained ministry, to share in the priesthood of the Church.

It is Christ alone who calls us.

Saint 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.

I am not worthy to be even a poor substitute, even a second best substitute for Judas, who had his own unique place in God’s salvific plan as it unfolded.

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 are 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 it matters little whether I am someone’s first choice or second choice, whether I am praised or thanked, whether anyone will remember me, can spell my name, or find my grave. All that matters is God’s plan, and whether I follow his call faithfully.

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

Saint Matthias – a stained glass window (1567) in Milan Cathedral


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.

(Revd Canon Professor) Patrick Comerford is Lecturer in Anglicanism, Liturgy and Church History, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute.

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