Words on the Word
The betrayal of Judas posed a problem for the early Church. He was one of the Twelve appointed by the Lord. The number was sacred. It had to be maintained. After Jesus’s resurrection, even more than before, the apostles were conscious of themselves forming a New Israel: the graced nucleus of a reformed, reunited, reconciled humanity. The Eleven take it for granted that a replacement for Judas must be found. It is striking that they go about this before the day of Pentecost. The apostolic college must be restored first; then the Church’s mission can begin. The procedure they follow is matter-of-fact. They have but one criterion: the one to be chosen has to have been ‘with us the whole time the Lord Jesus went in and out among us’. Two candidates stand out: Barsabbas and Matthias. Following biblical custom, the Eleven draw lots. When it falls on Matthias, they see this as the Holy Spirit’s work. Their integrity, inherent in the number twelve, is healed. Brought together, they are ready to disperse. What can we learn from this story? We learn that from the outset of our faith, the Church has had to deal with infidelity. It has done so realistically, in faith, facing facts, sure that the Lord will provide. In our times, we have been reminded more than once that election to high ecclesiastical office is not in itself a guarantee of truthful living. The account of Matthias’s election should encourage us. If the Church we know and love sometimes seems rudderless, let us pray the Spirit to raise up leaders after God’s own heart, who have ‘gone in and out’ with Jesus, who know him and can make him known. Let us pray, too, for those who hold pastoral office, especially our bishops. The vestments we bear today are red. The stakes of apostleship are high. St Matthias would follow Jesus to the end, and die a martyr’s death. The grace of his election was confirmed and perfected in the grace of his perseverance. By his prayers, may we not be unworthy of his Christlike example. Amen.