In those days Peter stood up among the believers (together the crowd numbered about one hundred and twenty people) 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.’
(Now this man acquired a field with the reward of his wickedness; and falling headlong, he burst open in the middle and all his bowels gushed out. This became known to all the residents of Jerusalem, so that the field was called in their language Hakeldama, that is, Field of Blood.)
‘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 throughout 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.
Following the death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus, the disciples gathered to select someone who might take the place of Judas Iscariot in the company of the apostles. It was stipulated that such a person should have been one who had accompanied them throughout the whole of Jesus’ ministry, from his baptism by John in the river Jordan to the moment of his being taken up into heaven. We do not know how many might have been eligible according to this criterion, but we do know that the choice was eventually boiled down to one of just two men: Joseph, who was also known as Justus, and Matthias. Then, following prayer and the casting of lots, Matthias was finally selected as the chosen one.
I wonder how Joseph, also known as Justus, felt? So near and yet so far? Did he feel bitter or did he accept the situation with resignation? Did he feel like Abraham Lincoln who, in 1858, lost a seat in the legislature on a technicality and is reported as having said: Like a boy who stubbed his toe: I am too big to cry and too badly hurt to laugh?
We have all known times when we have felt rejected. We have all had times when our absolute certainty about ourselves has not been endorsed by others. In such times we have probably known feelings of rejection and resentment, times of feeling misunderstood and undervalued. In such times we will have struggled with the prayer offered by the apostles before the casting of lots: Lord, you know everyone’s heart.
In this short prayer we are being reminded of the omniscience of God. God is all-knowing. God knows what is best in all situations. God wants us to use the difficult times as well as the affirming times to help us along our pilgrimage of faith.
A pilgrimage is a journey that can go smoothly for much of the time but that will, most certainly, have moments that present the traveller with challenges, discouragements and dangers. To trust in our own strength on the pilgrimage we call human life is to reject the guidance and the support that can come from God alone.
Sometimes our lives will feel as though the dice have been loaded heavily against us. Today’s account of the calling of Matthias should help us to see otherwise. Rather than focusing on the chosen one, let us pause and reflect on the ‘loser’. Joseph came so close to being accepted into the company of the apostles but then all was snatched away. Or was it?
So often doors that are slammed in our faces lead us to a path of more profound understanding. Sometimes the doors that slam reveal gifts and talents that had never come into our minds before. The important lesson for us to learn is that the Lord does know everyone’s heart. God really does know what is best for us, and how we might best live out our lives of apostleship.
Let us pray that we might set aside our pride and trust in God’s wisdom, a wisdom that will lead us along paths of joyous discipleship and, ultimately, into God’s nearer presence for ever.