Wednesday, February 24, 2010
Was Matthias a Mistake?
The selection of St. Matthias (Acts 1:15-26) by the Apostles was made out of their desire to fill up the number twelve, but it seems possible they jumped the gun. Had they been patient and waited just a while, they would have seen the conversion of St. Paul and that he would have been a perfect replacement for Judas, rounding out the number twelve. Paul, taken from the leadership of those opposing the Church, is a fit replacement for Judas, who fell from the heights of Jesus' own disciples. But it was not to be. Matthias was chosen. Was it a hasty mistake?
It's possible that the early Church may have been somewhat aware of this, for in the canon, Matthias is relegated to the second list of saints rather than the first where the other Apostles are. In fact it seems to have taken several centuries for the full apostleship of Matthias to be recognized.
On the other hand, it seems wrong to label this apostolic act, of choosing another, as a mistake. After all, Jesus had given them authority to act. Jesus doesn't make mistakes; how could they?
We have in the Apostles men who were in themselves fallible, and yet who because of the Spirit in them spoke divine truth infallibly. Their words of proclamation were God's own words. This we affirm without reservation. In the carrying out of their office they were flawless. On the other hand we recognize that in themselves they were still capable of error, as indeed we see in St. Peter's siding with the Judaizers, earning him the rebuke of St. Paul, according to Galatians.
So we have in the selection of Matthias something which might have been done better, had they waited just a bit; and yet, they did it, so it becomes part of the divine economy: like it or not, now Matthias is an apostle.
Like one assigned to take up the last open seat on a bus, Matthias sits, and then in comes Paul. Oops. Now we must squeeze him in to make room. Oh well; that's the way it is.
There is comfort in this, actually: for God assumes these things and moves forward just as He had ever done with Israel. To take much more drastic examples, Samson slept with a harlot, God used it for good; Moses struck the rock, God used it for good. Israel grumbled; God used it for good. Et cetera.
What's the good in thirteen primary apostles, then? Perhaps only this: that we too may learn to live without regret. If we might have made decisions that in retrospect could be called ill-advised, we may take confidence in this, that God assumes them into the course of our grace-laden lives, and moves forward with us in His unspeakable mercy.
Here's the sermon for St. Matthias' Day.