The Feast of St. Matthias
The Rev. Jason R. Grote
Today is a special day for our Parish. You might note that we have exchanged the traditional Lenten color of purple for the color red. This is because today is February 24th. It is the Feast of our patron saint, St. Matthias.
By all accounts, St. Matthias is the one of the least known apostles. There is not much known about him and there is not said about him. The first and only time that his name appears is when the Apostles fill the vacancy of Judas Iscariot’s bishopric. “And in those days Peter stood up in the midst of the disciples, and said, (the number of names together were about an hundred and twenty,) Men and brethren, this scripture must needs have been fulfilled, which the Holy Ghost by the mouth of David spake before concerning Judas, which was guide to them that took Jesus. For he was numbered with us, and had obtained part of this ministry. Now this man purchased a field with the reward of iniquity; and falling headlong, he burst asunder in the midst, and all his bowels gushed out. And it was known unto all the dwellers at Jerusalem; insomuch as that field is called in their proper tongue, Aceldama, that is to say, The field of blood. For it is written in the book of Psalms, Let his habitation be desolate, and let no man dwell therein: and his bishopric let another take.”
Peter, and the others, knew full well what the Scriptures said. They understood their ancestral history. They knew the situation that had happened in the book of Judges chapter 19. A old Levite man and his concubine were traveling one evening and they found accommodations in the land that the tribe of Benjamin inhabited. But while there, the men of the city came to his host and sought to know the old man. The host refused to entertain their desire for sodomy and instead sent out the man’s concubine. These men abused and raped the women to the point of death. The man, when he returned to his home, cut his concubine’s body into twelve pieces and sent a piece to each tribe. When all the tribes found out what happened they rose up against Benjamin. But, instead of repenting, they came out in war against the eleven tribes. On the third day of battle the Benjaminites were defeated. The remaining tribes were sorrowful. The words of scripture record for us, “And the people came to the house of God, and abode there till even before God, and lifted up their voices, and wept sore; And said, O LORD God of Israel, why is this come to pass in Israel, that there should be today one tribe lacking in Israel?"
Peter and the apostles knew the distress when a portion of the inheritance and a portion in God’s ministry was cut off. They knew it from their fathers and now they knew it first-handed with Judas’ betrayal of Christ. There understood the necessity for totality in the twelve tribes of the Old Israel and that in Christ’s appointment there was totality in the twelve Apostles of the new Israel. How discomforting and sorrowful it was for them to have the ministry lacking.
With this in mind, and the direct prophecy given in the Psalms, Peter calls for the replacement of Judas’ ministry. He says, “Wherefore… of these men which have companied with us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us.. beginning from the baptism of John unto that same day that he was taken up from us.. must one be ordained to be a witness with us of his resurrection. And they appointed two, Joseph called Barsabas, who was surnamed Justus, and Matthias.”
Since that first official Church act there has been some debate as to whether St. Matthias was to be counted among the disciples. Some have claimed that the Apostles were quick and rash in their decision. They have argued that the Apostles usurped Christ’s plan to fill the vacancy with St. Paul. It’s been said that all Apostles were called directly by Christ and that St. Paul is the rightful Apostle-- not St. Matthias.
But such a claim is not warranted. The Apostles followed the pattern set forth in Scriptures. They also set a process for doing so. The necessity was that the individual be one that accompanied them and Christ throughout his earthly ministry from the time of Christ’s baptism to His ascension. But this requirement was not the end. There was more. Luke continues, “And they prayed, and said, Thou, Lord, which knowest the hearts of all men, show whether of these two thou hast chosen, that he may take part of this ministry and apostleship, from which Judas by transgression fell, that he might go to his own place. And they gave forth their lots; and the lot fell upon Matthias; and he was numbered with the eleven apostles."
The Apostles did not take the responsibility of choosing the replacement upon themselves. Instead they turned to God. They prayed to God asking for His will to be made known, for His chosen to be appointed. And they turn to the appointed way of receiving God’s answer. They cast lots. Every thing was done according to Godly principles and it is certain that Matthias was and is to be regarded as part of the twelve.
But at the very point that Matthias enters into the Scripture’s scope, he disappears. These few verses are the only verses anywhere in Scripture that we will read about the newly appointed Apostle. With the Gospels recounting and naming the other Apostles and with the Acts of the Apostles focusing mainly on the works of Peter and Paul, Matthias is often forgotten. He’s viewed as never truly impacting the Church.
What do we know about him? What did he do? These are the questions often asked. It’s almost impossible to find a picture of this Apostle let alone finding anything out about his life. At times we find ourselves wishing that Luke or one of the other inspired writers gave us at least a tidbit of Matthias' ministry.
But all is not hopeless. We can learn some things of Matthias. Extra biblical accounts and writings tell us some things. Of course these accounts are vague and at times contradictory. According to Nicephorus, Matthias preached the Gospel in Judea then in Ethiopia and was finally crucified. It is said that he preached among barbarians and cannibals in Ethiopia. Another tradition has him being stoned by the Jews. Which account is accurate is hard to determine.
There is also a gospel account credited to Matthias. Origen mentions this and St. Clement of Alexandria quotes a phrase attributed to Matthias’ gospel. The quote being, “we must combat our flesh, set no value upon it, and concede nothing that can flatter it, but rather increase the growth of our soul by faith and knowledge.” It is also a tradition that Matthias’ remains were relocated to Trier where the Abby of St. Matthias now stands.
But remember that these things are speculative and not provable fact. It’s fun to read of these theories and histories but what we should be concerned with is what we know for sure. What we know is true is what the Scriptures say. Although somewhat obscure we do learn what kind of person St. Matthias was.
First, we can learn from his name. Matthias,. a name derived from Mattathias, has the meaning “The gift of Yahweh”. His name must have had an impact on the Apostles, not as a candidate quality, but in the fact that the one chosen is a gift of Yahweh. At a time of trouble, at a time of distress, at a time of sorrow over the incompleteness of the ministry God gives a gift-- he provides for their need in the person of Matthias.
Second, we learn that Matthias met the requirements that Peter set forth. “Out of these men… we must choose one that has been with us since Christ’s baptism by John until His ascension.” Matthias met this requirement. What does this tell us about him? It tells us that Matthias was one of the seventy disciples of Jesus. It tells us that Matthias was faithful to Christ. It tells us that Matthias had a deep love for Christ. He was one that endured the ups and downs of being Christ’s disciple. His faith was one that had deep roots that could not be strangled by the concerns and cares of the world, that could not be plucked off the wayside by the fowls of misunderstanding, and that could not be scorched by heat of tribulation and trials.
Matthias forsook home and family to follow Christ. He traveled for three years following the path of Christ. He listened and internalized Christ’s teachings. He was there when Christ spoke of the persecutions that would come their way because of their belief. He heard the distressing words of Christ’s departure. He shared in the sorrow of Christ’s impending death. He was present at the crucifixion where the danger was even enough to cause Peter to renounce Christ three times.
Finally, we learn that Matthias was numbered among the twelve. This means that he was willing to part of the ministry. He accepted the responsibility given to him. He could have stepped aside and let Barsabas take the position-- but he didn’t. He stepped up to the plate, so to speak, and was willing to do whatever he could to further the advancement of Christ’s kingdom. Truly, Matthias was a man with Godly character.
St. Matthias truly is an appropriate name for our Parish. At times we may feel like some people view the Apostle-- the last and least. Some may not know who we are or what we’ve done. We don’t have pages of Church history devoted to our Church. We don’t have big programs or events that catch everyone’s attention. Many may ponder how we have affected the world for Christ.
But the Chapel of St. Matthias is a gift of God. Although small, it has been a source of God’s provision for her members. For 20 years it has been a parish that has sought to do God’s will-- to stand up in the face of other’s doubt in order to further and help complete Christ’s kingdom in whatever location she found herself.
It has been a parish that has persevered through the cares and concerns of the world. It has remained spiritually strong through times of financial hardship and through rough waters of some past shepherding. It has been a parish that has not been devoured by the distress of doubt and lack of understanding. When big numbers don’t seem to grace our doors and discouragement can set it, when the national Episcopal Church began committing spiritual adultery with unorthodox heresy and divorce was necessary, she remained faithful to the Word of God. When the heat of personal sacrifice has been unbearable, the parish has lived it as unto Christ.
But it’s not the parish-- it’s those in the parish.
It’s you!! In a very real sense there is a part of St. Matthias, both
the parish and the Apostle, that resides and lives in you. So as we celebrate
the Feast of our beloved Patron Saint may we embrace him in our hearts and ever
continue to follow in his footsteps for the sake of the gospel of Jesus Christ.