LESSONS FROM CHOOSING MATTHIAS
©Wendell Griffen, 2015
May 17, 2015 (Seventh Sunday of Easter)
Acts 1:15-17, 21-26
15In those days Peter stood up among the believers (together the crowd numbered about one hundred twenty persons) and said, 16“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—17for he was numbered among us and was allotted his share in this ministry.” …
21So one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, 22beginning 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.” 23So they proposed two, Joseph called Barsabbas, who was also known as Justus, and Matthias. 24Then they prayed and said, “Lord, you know everyone’s heart. Show us which one of these two you have chosen 25to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place.”26And they cast lots for them, and the lot fell on Matthias; and he was added to the eleven apostles.
The only thing we know about Matthias, the person chosen to round out the 12 apostles in place of the deceased Judas Iscariot, is that he was chosen by the 120 persons who gathered in the Upper Room after the Ascension of Jesus. Matthias was chosen, by lot and following prayer, over another follower of Jesus named Justus.
Neither Matthias nor Justus is mentioned in any of the Gospel accounts of the life of Jesus. What qualified them as candidates to round out the apostles?
Presumably, Matthias and Justus were associated with Jesus during his ministry in Galilee. Presumably, Matthias and Justus encountered the resurrected Jesus of Easter. Presumably, Matthias and Justus were associated with the community that followed Jesus and heard Jesus teach after the resurrection.
But neither Matthias nor Justus are mentioned in the Gospels as having stood near the cross of the crucified Jesus.
Neither Matthias nor Justus are named among the followers of Jesus who found the tomb of Jesus empty.
Neither Matthias nor Justus were with the women who went to the tomb on the first Easter.
Neither Matthias nor Justus heard the angels declare that Jesus had risen from the grave.
How did Matthias and Justus become the top candidates to round out the apostles? How were they elevated over Mary Magdalene (identified in John’s Gospel as being the first person to speak with the resurrected Jesus)?
How is it that none of the women who were at the tomb on the first Easter, who found the tomb empty, who were addressed by angels, and who were commissioned by Jesus to go tell the men (presumably including Matthias) that he was alive was considered a worthy candidate?
It appears that Matthias became an apostle because the selection process was set up to favor males. The text says that the 120 prayed, cast lots, and selected Matthias. But the text also says that Peter defined the selection criteria for candidacy to succeed Judas Iscariot based on gender. Despite the fact that the women stayed to witness the crucifixion and death of Jesus while Peter, the other apostles (except for John), and (apparently) Matthias deserted him, Matthias was considered more deserving of consideration than Mary Magdalene or any of the other women.
One lesson we should glean from the selection of Matthias is that we import our biases onto our notion of faith. Sexism and male privilege, not piety or familiarity with the resurrection of Jesus, were the factors that influenced Peter and the other early leaders.
In choosing Matthias Peter and the older apostles made maleness equal to having witnessed the resurrected Jesus. They made maleness equal to having learned from Jesus, trusted Jesus, and followed Jesus.
Beyond that, they made maleness more important than the fact that Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who were first heralds of the resurrection. They made maleness more important than the people who were the first eye witnesses to the resurrection, more important than the people who were first to believe Jesus had risen from the grave, and more important even than the commission Jesus gave the women who were the first to proclaim his resurrection to the yet unbelieving male disciples.
Another lesson is that because we import our biases onto our notions of faith, we incorporate those biases into how we live that faith. In doing so, we cause ministry efforts and actions, meaning our living, to deviate from the life, ministry, and resurrection of Jesus. When ministry efforts, practices, and perspectives perpetuate our biases rather than the example of Jesus, we distance ourselves from the power of the resurrection.
When the first witnesses to the resurrection (women) were passed over in favor of Matthias, the resurrection didn’t lose its power. The apostles lessened their outreach! They chose not to include the witness of Mary Magdalene, Salome, Mary the mother of James, or one of the other women among the apostles!
God only knows what might have been accomplished if Peter, James, John, Thomas, Phillip, Nathaniel, Andrew, or some of the remaining eleven had championed one of the women to succeed Judas Iscariot and be counted an apostle of the resurrection of Jesus! The resurrection wasn’t diminished by their failure to do that! Their effectiveness was limited.
The choice of Matthias also exposes our tendency to favor what we have always done even in the face of clear evidence that God has revealed something new and better, something only God can inspire us to achieve. God raised Jesus!
God made women rather than men the first messengers of the resurrection. The resurrection of Jesus reveals the power of God to do new things in the human experience.
The resurrection reveals the power of God to open doors! The resurrection reveals the power of to God tear down walls! The resurrection reveals the power of God to “make a way out of no way” as my elders often told me during my childhood. The resurrection of Jesus reveals the power of God to accomplish “abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine” as we read in the third chapter of the epistle to the Ephesians (Ephesians 3:20-21).
None of this—not any of that wonderful, liberating, radical, and subversive power—of God is apparent from the choice of Matthias.
In our haste to be about God’s business let us not move away from what God has done in the resurrection of Jesus.
· God re-defined what it means to be alive.
· God made those who are considered least (in this instance it was the women) first messengers of the gospel that Jesus LIVES!
· God rejected our time-honored notions about who can do what, and even our best thinking about what can be done.
· And God invited us, through the resurrection of Jesus, to become representatives of that liberating, overcoming, oppression conquering, and loving power, not only for ourselves, but also for people who have traditionally been excluded, marginalized, oppressed, ignored, discounted, and vilified.
The disconnect between the choice of Matthias and what the resurrection of Jesus reveals about the power and purposes of God continues for followers of Jesus, and the world at large, today!
We witness that disconnect when followers of Jesus rally to champion the cause of Jews migrating to Israel and support wholesale land theft in the West Bank and Gaza while denying the right of return for Palestinians and ignoring flagrant human rights abuses by the government of Israel. Choosing Matthias!
The disconnect confronts us in the way followers of Jesus genuflect before the captains of commerce. At every level of government tax breaks are handed out to the wealthy by people who refuse to invest in social services aimed at opening doors for people who are poor, people of color, women, children, the disabled, and immigrants. Choosing Matthias!
The disconnect stands before us when religious people throughout the world, including followers of Jesus, do nothing to challenge the conduct of wealthy nations that complain about providing help and refuge to immigrants fleeing war, hunger, oppression, and other hardships in their home nations. We see Matthias being chosen when wealthy nations claim they can’t afford to help floundering immigrants while they pour billions of dollars into more military spending that benefits defense contractors and prop up private investment banks.
The disconnect stands before us locally. Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson named Robert Dennis “Denny” Altes (a former state legislator from Fort Smith) to become the state drug director last week. In 2007 Mr. Altes sent an email message to a former Fort Smith mayor in which Altes made the following comments:
"All politics are local and I am for sending the illegals back but we know that is impossible. We are where we were with the black folks after the revolutionary war. We can't send them back and the more we piss them off the worse it will be in the future. So what do we do. I say the governor needs to try to enforce the law and sign the letter of understanding with the INS and at least we can send the troublemakers back. Sure we are being overrun but we are being out populated by the blacks also. What is the answer. Only time will tell."
Mr. Altes later made what he considered an apology and said he didn’t consider his comments referring to immigrants and black people racist.
Denny Altes, a person with no proven education, experience, or insight concerning drug policy at any level, is the person Governor Hutchinson has chosen to direct drug policy for the entire state of Arkansas. In 2015, followers of Jesus are still choosing Matthias!
God, who raised Jesus from the tomb, calls us to be more than modern versions of the decision to choose Matthias. God, who loved the world so much that Jesus came to liberate us from notions of righteousness based on privilege and exclusion, calls us to see the people who remain outside our selection processes.
God calls us to keep faith with the liberating and loving Jesus of resurrection, not the time-worn practices and prejudices of privilege and exclusion that are woven into so much of what we do and how we do it. If the people who claim to be followers of Jesus are unwilling to do this, we should not be surprised when the rest of the world ignores our claim to be authentic messengers of the God who raised Jesus from the tomb.
Let the power of the resurrection of Jesus inspire us to see and question the ways we tend to choose Matthias in our time and place. Let the people of Jesus lead the way in opening doors that have closed. Let us lead the way in tearing down walls of bigotry and discrimination. Let us lead the way in honoring those who have historically been marginalized. We are followers of Jesus, the resurrected one! Let us boldly act as agents of resurrection today, tomorrow, and always, to the glory of God!