Today, we’re meditating on holiness with Saint Matthias. He’s a lesser-known saint and a lesser-known apostle, in fact–in many ways, the lucky number 13. Saint Matthias is such a marginal figure in our imagination that even his feast has been moved around like a box of old books. Today is his traditional feast day, but church calendars change, as we know all too well in this pandemic-tide.
Today, we think about holiness through this holy replacement–a man selected seemingly at random to step into the infamous shoes of Judas.
Judas Iscariot’s betrayal of Jesus, even now 2000 years later, has a life all its own. This betrayal puts Judas front and center in the narrative of Jesus’ crucifixion. We hear a lot about Judas–but his replacement? This simple man named Matthias? Well, Matthias was anything but front and center. Matthias shows us the holy work of being in the background.
The Book of Acts 1:12-26 tells us that after Christ ascended and after Judas’ death, Peter instructed 120 believers to choose someone to replace Judas as the 12th apostle. Twelve was an important number within Jewish culture: it was the number of disciples Jesus originally selected and so it was important to keep that group–the early church–intact. So Peter and the believers considered two people to be one of the Twelve. Matthias, and Joseph called Barsabbas.
Scripture tells us that Peter set the criteria: they must have “had 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” (Acts 1:21-22). This was the criteria they set. Judas’ replacement must be a follower of Jesus. A follower and a witness of the entire arc of Jesus’ ministry from the beginning.
This is important: Matthias was one of the seventy-two disciples and had been with Jesus from his Baptism by John in the Jordan River all the way to Ascension. And while little is known about Matthias himself, much of it through myth and speculation: the Bible tells us something very important–he was there the whole time, somewhere in the background.
He was there when Jesus raised a girl from the dead and healed the sick. Matthias was there when Jesus healed the man born blind. He was there at the Sermon on the Mount. He was there when Jesus said “blessed are the poor for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” and “blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.” Matthias was there all along, but no one really noticed. And maybe Matthias didn’t know what it all meant either–he was there, in the moment, and he kept on following Jesus.
Our culture today has some pretty strong views on being a follower. It’s often frowned upon. If one is a follower, one may be looked at as not having a mind of one’s own, not having a sense of agency. Maybe you’re looked at as not being independent or proactive enough. Not special. Simply a part of the backdrop. In today’s culture, rather than be in the background, we’re encouraged to “use our voice.” To “speak up!” To be heard. We use phrases like “I see you” to signal to a person that they are not invisible even if history has dictated otherwise. And advice like “be assertive!” and “say–no–demand want you want and need!” is supposed to show that we know our worth, that we articulate our specialness.
I’ve spent a lot of my life in the background; being quiet, observing. When I was a kid, rather than speak my thoughts, I’d write them in my Nancy Drew diary. This is my actual one from when I was in 4th grade! I always had my head in a book. The characters were who I wanted to talk to, I didn’t want to talk to the adults in my real life. I didn’t mind not being noticed.
When I was an adult coming up in my book publishing career, I’d observe senior editorial staff give their presentations at “launch” meetings and sales conferences. I’d sit quietly in the background and observe how the team responded to each presenter. And I’d notice things myself. I noticed when Sales looked excited or bored. I noticed when they got fidgety. And I’d notice when they seemed really moved by something personal that one of the presenters shared. This wasn’t knowledge I necessarily knew I was acquiring, but it allowed me to do effective presentations of my own when my time came.
There was something stirring in me, something preparing me–the whole time I was in the background.
Even now at church, something is still stirring. My first year of being at Epiphany I spent happily serving in the background by making sandwiches for people experiencing food poverty and homelessness; I’d sit in on sermon & communications meetings and I’d listen, pretty much in awe, and just soak up everyone’s knowledge about tradition, about stories in the Bible that allow us to see Jesus’s love in action back then… and right here, right now.
I wasn’t really aware of how all that was preparing me for the ways that I serve now. I’ve been up there, preaching sermons. I’ve recently joined the Vestry, which is a leadership group in churches like ours. And I’ve even led worship by presiding at Evensong.
I’d been pretty content being in the background…but the community chose me to serve more visibly. And when the time had come, I realized I was more prepared than I thought I was. And so, I wonder about Matthias. I wonder if he felt adequate in the background. Maybe he didn’t feel worthy of being chosen. Or maybe he was patient, or maybe he didn’t think of being chosen at all. After all, Peter and the believers could easily have selected Barsabbas when they drew lots. And yet, Matthias had already made his choice–he chose to follow Jesus, and ultimately the community chose Matthias.
At Epiphany, we talk a lot about being “providentially placed at a particular place and a particular time.” These roll off our tongues so easily that we forget what a radical idea it can be! To believe that God has put us here for a reason! Right here! Right now! God placed us right here! Where we are! During this time, with the capacity and aptitudes that we have for reasons that may seem mysterious–until we choose to follow. When we choose to follow Jesus, the community will eventually choose us.
For what? Well, much like Matthias, we are called to live out God’s story. Matthias may have started out as an observer of Jesus, but look at how he ended up. Look at what Matthias went on to become. After the Holy Spirit descended and the apostles became The Twelve again, Matthias was chosen to spread the good news of the Gospel to Jews in Judea and to Gentiles and unbelievers in other regions. He may have suffered physically in the name of Christ from beatings, loss of eyesight, and stonings. He converted many, and was even imprisoned because he continued to spread the Good News of the Messiah’s teachings. And with all that he endured, Matthias kept on teaching. He kept on spreading the good news of Jesus’ love. If that’s not a holy role, if that’s not a holy placement, then I don’t know what is. Though the scripture goes silent on Matthias’ story, the community of believers still shares his story in God’s cosmic plan, just as we are sharing his story today.
There’s a benefit to being in the background. There’s value in going unnoticed. The value is–the worth is–that it helps us be silent. And that silence allows us to focus on observing; on witnessing. Matthias was on Jesus’ walk with him the entire time. He was quiet and in the background, but he was there for it all.
When we set ourselves aside, as we do in Lent, our focus expands outwards. We encounter God outside ourselves.
Our holy roles may surprise us. We might be catapulted into the unexpected at home or at work or at church or at school. Maybe you have existed, rather comfortably, or uncomfortably, in the background too. Then one day, you are awakened to what your holy mission in this life and in the kingdom of God might be. We may feel like we are not ready. But one thing is for sure: God is preparing us. Preparing us to listen to that call.
What do we do when we get it? If we go our own way, to our own place like Judas did, we may be lost. But if we choose to go Jesus’ way, to Jesus’ place, that makes us more ready than we think we are… ready right here, right now.
Text by Kelli Martin and Jad Baaklini
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