Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Anybody but Judas!

Guess what the first thing the disciples did after the resurrection? Yes, that's right! They had a committee meeting!


But they had some important business to do. Jesus had twelve disciples but this brand-spanking new church had only eleven.

They had to decide who was going to replace Judas. Judas, the twelfth apostle, betrayed Jesus and in his remorse killed himself. So now the remaining apostles need to pick his replacement. So they developed a search criteria--the person had to know Jesus throughout his earthly ministry, to have been a faithful follower of Jesus from the time of Jesus' baptism by John to his crucifixion, death, and resurrection. Furthermore, he had to have been a direct witness to Jesus' resurrection.

There is nothing there about his character, or any background checks, but I am sure that this was also a consideration.

So out of all the possible followers of Jesus, they came up with two names: Justus (aka Barsabbas or Joseph) and Matthias.

Then they drew lots.

And that is pretty much the last we ever heard of Matthias.

Given the amount of valuable velum taken up rehearsing the betrayal and death of Judas Iscariot, I have a hunch that maybe, just maybe, they had not completely processed their feelings about his dastardly deed. What with Jesus' own death, his resurrection, and the tendency of the Risen Jesus to pop in unannounced, often in two places at the same time, and then Jesus' ascension and charge to them to go into the world and await the coming of the Holy Spirit...with all that going on, I don't think they really had a chance to work this out.

 So they draw straws and Matthias wins.

According to Laurie Brock, Celebrity Blogger, for this year's Lent Madness, Matthias has a strong stomach and some crazy super-powers.
Information about Matthias from other sources states he was born in Bethlehem and studied under Simeon (of Song of Simeon fame). He and Andrew traveled together to spread the gospel into Ethiopia. Matthias is said to have encountered several groups on his journeys that attempted to kill him in various ways. One account has him being forced to drink poison. Matthias complied; not only did he remain unharmed but also the other Christians with him who had been forced to drink the poison were miraculously healed. Another account recalls his flight from angry pagans bent on killing him; eventually he becomes invisible and escapes. When Matthias is again fleeing from agitated pagans, the earth opens and swallows them, allowing Matthias to go about his missionary work.
He may or may not have written his own Gospel, but we'll never know because it's lost to history. 
Matthias was apparently the safe choice. A known quantity. One of "us" (at least to the eleven). And he apparently did very good work. But one could make the case that what the church was ready for Matthias, when what they really needed was a Paul. 

Paul was the one who would break open the church, take it to the Gentiles, and define Christianity as a religion in it's own right. Matthias certainly forwarded the Gospel, but the extent to which Paul changed the conversation is seen in the tales about Matthias that were told about him through the lens of Paul's ministry. Even fans of Matthias' kind of Christianity, a Christianity still intimately connected with Judaism, had to adapt to the new world brought to them by that interloping apostle's work. 

I wonder how much of the eleven's vision about how and where to go next was guided mainly by the urge to make sure that whoever they picked was not another Judas. 

This is a sobering lesson for us as we think about God is at work in our world that is changing all around us. As we think about the church that we love versus the church that God--that the world--needs.  We are tempted to at once go for the safe, while at the same time go in reaction against what went wrong in the past. 

How often have we decided to act solely on the basis of the bad or failed experience of the past? And how often have we ended up repeating the same mistakes in a new way? We might bounce from job, or from one relationship, or from one church, to another. And still come away feeling "meh!" 

The problem is that very often we listen for God through the filter called "well, that didn't work, let's try the opposite!" Instead of listening for what we really need, we try to avoid what made us feel bad. 

But if the criteria for the future is simply to avoid the pain of the past, if what we are looking for is certainty, if the best we can is to say "Anybody but Judas" then we set ourselves up to miss the possibility and the power that God has in store for us.

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