14 May, Tuesday. St Matthias, Apostle. Feast
Acts 1:15-17; 20-26. Matthias is selected to take the place of Judas Iscariot.
John 15:9-17. The interchange of life between the Vine and the Branches.
First Reading. Acts 1:15-17; 20-26
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 no one 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.
Gospel John 15:9-17.
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 up the Twelve
Matthias can best be seen against the background of the calling of the first apostles. The words of Peter illuminate that apostle who appears in Scripture almost as briefly as his fellow-candidate Joseph. Matthias, was one of “those who have been in our company all the time that the Lord Jesus moved among us, from John’s baptism until the day that he was taken up from us.” He was capable and qualified to become a witness to the resurrection. this enables us to reconstruct to some extent the life of the apostle Matthias. He was near the Messias from the very beginning. Perhaps he, like many of the other apostles, had already belonged to the group around John the Baptist. Certainly he left his home and occupation when Jesus entered into his life, and followed the Lord through the streets. He heard the words spoken by Christ in the Sermon on the Mount, His words spoken from the boat on the sea. He saw the sick being healed and the devil 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 remained faithful to Jesus even when some of his disciples “turned back and no longer went about with him.” Matthias, too, 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 early 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 so striking about the selection of Matthias to us today is the method by which the apostles sought to discover the divine will; they cast lots, following the 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 honorable 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. Even the spurious writings of the apostles rarely considered anything about Matthias worth mentioning. There are various Greek, Coptic, and old Latin legends concerning this apostle, but almost always they stem from a confusion of Matthias with Matthew and attribute the words and works of the former tax-collector to the wrong apostle.
How unknown Matthias was even in the Latin Church until the eleventh century is shown by the fact that in ten centuries only two sermons commemorating his feast have been preserved. One was given by an abbot from the monastery of Monte Cassino in the ninth century; the other has been attributed both to St Augustine and to the Venerable Bede. Even the writers of Christian antiquity-such as Paulinus of Nola, Venantius Fortunatus, Victor of Capua-who gathered information concerning the burial places of the apostles, had not a word to record about Matthias. Eusebius spoke of an unreliable “Gospel of Matthias,” which may have originated in Gnostic circles during the first half of the second century in Egypt, the esoteric doctrines of which Christ supposedly revealed to Matthias.
The major message from today’s Gospel, however, is that all of Jesus’ followers, and not only those chosen for special apostolic office, are united with him in a living bond, as the branches to the vine, drawing life and inspiration from him. The apostles, including Matthias, devoted themselves to propagating and nurturing that Vine, our great, collective belonging to Jesus the Risen Lord.