May 14

St. Matthias

According to Acts, St. Matthias was chosen by lot to replace the traitor Judas Iscariot as an Apostle. Little else is known about the man; traditions differ to his missionary activity and death. Yet, he was called, granted in an unusual way, to spread the Good News.

First Reading: Acts 1:15-17, 20-26

15 In those days, Peter having stood up in the midst of the brothers spoke. There was a crowd of named (men) in the same (place) as (many as) one hundred and twenty. 16 "Men, (my) brothers, it was necessary for the Scriptures to be filled which the Holy Spirit (was) to speak beforehand through the mouth of David concerning Judas, the (one) having become the guide to the (ones) having taken JESUS together, 17 because he had been numbered among us and he obtained a lot in this ministry.

20a,c For it was written in the Book of Psalms, '...let another take his (office of) overseer.' 21 So, it is necessary (that) the men having accompanied us the entire time in which the LORD JESUS came and went from us, 22 beginning with the baptism of John until the day he was taken up from us, to become one of these with us, a witness to HIS resurrection." 23 They stood two men (before everyone), Joseph, the one called Barabbas who was (also) called Justus, and Matthias. 24 Having prayed, they said, "YOU, LORD, knower of the hearts of everyone, signify whom you have chosen from these two (men) one 25 to take (his) place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned away to go to his own place." 26 They gave lots to them and the lot fell on Matthias and he was counted with the eleven Apostles.

1:20c This is from the Septuagint's Greek translation of Psalm 109:8.

1:21-22 This long sentence can be simplified by jumping to the end of 1:22 first. In other words read the verses as: "It was necessary ...(for) one of these (men) to become one of us." The men were qualified as those who were faithful to Jesus from the beginning of his ministry until his Ascension. "One of us" was defined as "a witness to his resurrection." This is an interesting definition for "Apostle."

1:22 "beginning with the baptism of John" could refer to the ministry of John itself or the baptism of Jesus by John.

1:24 "YOU, LORD..." This title was ambiguous. Whom were the men praying to, the Father or Jesus? However, the content of the prayer gives us a clue. Since Jesus chose the Twelve, we can assume they were addressing the Risen Lord.

1:25 "(his) place in this ministry and apostleship" The two nouns "ministry" and "apostleship" could be translated as one: apostolic ministry. Greek grammar can be interpreted in this fashion and, in reality, both were two parts to the same calling.

God always fills holes. If there is a need, God call someone to help fill that need. Not everyone who is called answers God's invitation. Not everyone is called to a particular ministry. Nevertheless, God's call is always personal, always one on one, yet he uses others to extend his call.

There was a hole in the ministry of the Apostles. Jesus chose twelve men, like the twelve tribes of Israel. For Jews, the number twelve had a significance; it meant "fullness, completion." The number twelve was the right number for the Apostles; eleven would have been too few, thirteen too many.

When Judas went his own way and betrayed the Master, he left the company of the Apostles. His absence created a lack that Peter was determined to fill. According to Luke, the Twelve were sent by the Lord to witness to his resurrection. One person had to be added to restore not only the sense of completion to what Jesus established, but to restore fullness to the mission. This person had to be someone who was a follower from the beginning with John the Baptist, and remained faithful through the tough times until the Ascension. In such a position of leadership, this person had to be a reliable source for passing along the Good News. So, an intimate knowledge of the person and ministry of Jesus was essential.

The assembly brought forth two men. Those gathered prayed over the men. Then, they cast lots, the equivalent of drawing straws. Matthias won and took his place among the Apostles.

Some might object to the notion that God revealed his will through a game of chance. Imagine if we drew cards or rolled dice to determine important decisions in our lives. Yet, God can and does act through such chancy actions. When he calls us, he asks us to take a risk, for his sake. Sometimes we need to pray in order to discern his call and the risk his call implies. Many times, his call entails a leap of faith; he wants us to trust him more and more.

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Gospel: John 15:9-17

Jesus said to his disciples:

9 Just as the Father loved me and I loved you, stay in my love.
10 If you keep my commands, you will stay in my love,
just as I have kept my Father's command and I stay in him love.
11 I have spoken these things to you that my joy might be in you,
and your joy might be filled.
12 This is my command:
love each other, just as I loved you.

15:9-10 How does one rest in Christ's love? Keep his commands. Obedience is the key to "remaining" in Christ's love (as well as building up a community based upon charity).

15:11 "your joy might be filled" means complete happiness.

15:12 "just as I loved you" is a reference to Jesus' self-sacrifice on the cross. The evangelist wrote this phrase from his time perspective not Jesus'. (In the gospel, Jesus spoke these words before his death, but, since the verb "loved" is in the past tense, Jesus spoke them as if his "act of love" already happened.)

Even in their barest form, we modern Christian readers immediately latch onto these passages. As long as we strive to love God, he will return love and fill us with joy. God will empower us to love others, as well. Awash in the glow of love's overwhelming power, it seems we can possess a happy disposition for the rest of life. Love will sustain us.

Of course, Jesus did not mean these passages for his follower's comfort. Jesus used the passages to challenge his disciples. In the culture of Jesus' time, status and reputation stood above accomplishment. It did not matter what someone did. What others said about him did matter. If someone did engage in activity, his efforts were only meant for self-glorification. Through the eyes of many Jews, God blessed his faithful with economic abundance, natural ability, and impeccable reputation. The poor, the lame, and the sinner were to be shamed and avoided.

This description might be over-simplified and almost a caricature, but it does point out an immature spirituality that existed in the time of Jesus, as well as today. The words of Jesus challenged the notions of blessing some followers had. Jesus never said, "Blessed are the rich and self-important who stand over you with spiritual advice." He did say, "Love one another." Love did not mean a warm, comforting feeling. It meant to help others in need. In other words, Jesus turned the conventional wisdom upside down. Action ("love" as serving those in need) stood above status and reputation. In fact, such action was the key to a growing relationship with God.

13 Greater than this love no one has,
that someone might lay down his life on behalf of his friends.
14 You are my friends,
if you do what I command you (to do).
15 No longer do I call you servants
because a servant does not know what his Master does.
But, I call you friends
because everything I heard from my Father
I made known to you.
16 You yourself did not choose me.
I myself chose you and lay (a mission) upon you
so you might go and bear fruit and your fruit might remain,
so that whatever you ask the Father in my name,
he will give you.
17 These things I command you (to do): love each other.

15:13 "that someone might lay down his life" "Life" is literally "soul." In John's gospel, "soul" is that force that animates the body. Hence, "soul" is the equivalent of "life."

15:14 "You are my friends" Greek does make a distinction between "philos" (a brotherly love that forms a friendship" and "agape" (an unselfish love, giving without condition, a duty based upon principle). However, John equated "friendship" (philos) and "unconditional love" (agape). To be the friend of Christ, one must give without reservation.

15:15 "No longer do I call you servants." Actually the word is "slave" but the Greek could denote an indentured servitude, a type of "slavery" for a limited time span. While God does not treat us as property, we are his, since we are his creatures. Yet, like the indentured servant who will be freed after a limited time, God wished to free us, to make us friends who would freely return his love and spread that love to others.

"a servant does not know what his Master does." Lack of knowledge in this sense does not ignorance but a lack of intimacy. In other words, a servant does not understand the plans of the Master, simply because they are not friends. True friends "know" each other. They know what each other will do. And they know why.

"because everything I heard from my Father, I made known to you." Friendship with Christ was based upon revelation. Believers knew the Father (his intent and actions), because Christ revealed it to them. And through that revelation, they also knew Christ.

15:16 "I myself chose you and lay (a mission) upon you" The verb "to lay upon" is the same as "to lay down" in 15:13. To bear fruit that endures, a Christian must be willing to die a little for others, just as Christ died for all so all might live. The notion of death giving life can also be found in 15:2 (the Father "pruning" the branches so they will bear fruit).

In the term "friend," Jesus played off the notion of reputation as the highest social value. More than a title of relationship in the time of Jesus, one could use the title "friend" as a bragging point, a tool to raise one's social status. This was more than name dropping. The "friend" of the governor or king shared in the power of the ruler, even vicariously. Remember, it did not matter what someone knew, it mattered who they knew. The "friend" of the rich and powerful exerted influence over his peers.

What would be greater than to be the "friend" of God's Son? This was even better than "friend of Caesar." But, here, Jesus listed the standard for divine friendship: self-giving to the point of death. Only Jesus accomplished such a feat completely. And he did it for his followers. He expected his followers to die a little for others. Humility and charity, of course, negated the selfish quest for "bragging rights." The true "friend" of God's Son rejected any notion of braggadocio.

In fact, Jesus gave the status of "friend" to his followers as a gift in two ways. First, Jesus made his followers his friends through his revelation. Just as the true friend "knew his brother," Jesus allowed his followers to "know" him and his Father through his teaching, his ministry, and his life among them. (Indeed, the presence of the Risen Christ in John's community helped solidify fellowship; in Christ, they "knew" each other.) The Christian way was based upon intimacy of divine friendship, not distant enslavement. The Christian loved God more than he or she feared the divine.

Second, Jesus "chose" his "friends." They did not choose him. This notion of divine "election" has a long history in theology, which we do not need to investigate at the moment. What we should notice, however, is the subject matter of the election. Jesus chose his followers for a mission: to "lay down" their lives as he did, so their self-giving might produce lasting "fruit." Hence, the kernel of Christian spirituality, self-giving ("laying down" life), roots the Christian community, fellowship based upon service (fruit that will last). Both of these notions were based upon love. When Christians truly loved others, even to the point of death, they became "friends" of Jesus and the Father. Like the "friends of the king," their requests would be looked upon graciously.

We are all called by God individually, sometimes in unusual ways. But we are all called by God to be friends of his Son, Jesus. No matter how we are called (even like St. Matthias?), God calls us to intimacy.

How did God call you to faith? How does he call you now to friendship?