In the last several weeks, the world has been watching young athletes from many countries compete in various winter sporting events. The young people have trained hard, and they have worked long hours to earn their place on their countries’ Olympic teams. Each person comes with the expectation of doing well and with the hope of winning a gold medal. Whether it is an individual or a team sport, they have their dreams – and their countrymen and women do too.
In sports, there is always a risk of injury, and injury means a person cannot compete, so that person is usually replaced by an alternate athlete, one who stands in the wings until needed, but always ready, as a song that used to be popular said, “Put me in coach, I’m ready to play.” They train hard even as alternate, just in case the coach needs to call on them. I would venture to say any person in a sport, be it Babe Ruth baseball, high school football, college basketball, swimming, or adult soccer, there’s always a hope of the coach calling them off the bench, and the alternate has a chance to become a star.
The story today for the commemoration of Matthias involves a bit of history, going back to the fall of Judas Iscariot. Judas was the one who betrayed Jesus to the Romans and, as we usually hear it, went out and hanged himself. Luke, the author of Acts, reported that he went out into a field, fell and burst open, dying as a result. However it happened, the 12 apostles had become 11, and now someone was needed to fill that empty spot, so the total number would be 12, the number Jesus had originally called. The remaining disciples and followers met with Peter, their acknowledged leader to find a replacement for Judas. There were 120 people there that day and of that number, two men were chosen to stand for election to fill the empty chair, to enter the game as a substitute so that the team would be at full strength and the work could go on unabated.
There were qualifications that they had to meet, one of which was that the person chosen had to have been a follower who accompanied the 12 from the time of Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan until the day of the ascension. The man must be a witness to the resurrection as well. It’s a hard set of qualifications, but it was necessary to continue the ministry that Jesus had begun.
They did not just pick anyone. They had two qualified candidates, one of whom was a man named Joseph, who was also known as Barsabbas and also Justus, and another man named Matthias. The company prayed that Jesus would choose the one who would be God’s choice to complete their number. The selection was made by casting lots (something like dice, tokens, or even drawing straws) and Matthias was the winner. He was then made one of the new 12 disciples fossils
I doubt seriously that Matthias was standing on the sidelines jumping up and down wildly waving his hand saying “Put me in, coach, I’m ready”; he surely must have realized the position would be difficult. I’m pretty sure also the he felt it was God’s will, so he must have been somewhat prepared to be a part of the new ministry to which he was chosen.
So, what are we to make of the selection of Matthias in the aftermath of the crucifixion, ascension, and subsequent shortage of apostles? The apostles did not rush into choosing someone to replace Judas. Undoubtedly, it was probably very difficult for them, because Judas had been a part of them throughout Jesus’s ministry. He was part of the brotherhood, so to speak, and the ties would have made him part of the family. It seems to me that the apostles did not rush because there might have been a sense of grief that Judas had chosen the path that he had, and that Jesus had died because of him. But Jesus rose from the dead and Judas did not. Still there might be some grief because of Judas’ faithlessness and a feeling of his betrayal not only of Jesus but of all of them by his actions.
This week, I think I will look at where substitution can be a benefit or a stumbling block. I feel that for being a substitute, one needs to be a shadow like an understudy for an actor in a play. Someone must be ready to jump in and take over almost seamlessly to make the production successful. If a member of a team on a project must drop out, someone must move in to take their place. Other people have to double up so that they have time to find replacement without slowing down the completion of the assignment.
I’m going to contemplate where I can be an understudy where I can watch and learn in case something happens and I am able move into a role or position and continue the progress forward. The building of God’s kingdom here on earth cannot be allowed to falter because the bench is lacking people ready to step into vacancies.
Image: By Workshop of Simone Martini – http://www.metmuseum.org/Works_of_Art/collection_database/european_paintings/saint_matthias_workshop_of_simone_martini//objectview.aspx?OID=110002131&collID=11&dd1=11, Public Domain, Link