May 15, 2015

Homily for the Seventh Sunday of Easter, May 17, 2015, Year B

Fr. René J. Butler, M.S.
Director, La Salette Shrine
Enfield, NH

Matthias is chosen. 

NOTE: In New Hampshire, this is the Seventh Sunday of Easter. For the Solemnity of the Ascension, celebrated this day in many other dioceses, see Matthew Coffin’s excellent reflection "Why Satan Hates the Ascension of Christ".)

And Matthias was never heard from again.

Well, as far as that goes, he was never heard from before, either. This story of his “election” as an Apostle is the only time he is mentioned by name in the whole New Testament. We know, from the criterion established by Peter, that both he and Barsabbas were among the first disciples of Jesus. Replacing Judas was apparently a big deal for the author of the Acts of the Apostles, the evangelist St. Luke. Everything inclines the reader to expect great things of Matthias.

And then, nothing. What happened? Did he fail? Did Peter and the assembled community make a mistake? Did Luke just get distracted, or lose interest in him? There are, of course, various traditions about where he ministered—Jerusalem, or the modern-day country of Georgia, or Ethiopia—and about how he died, either by being stoned to death and beheaded, or dying of old age in his bed.

Who knows? More importantly, who cares?

We could ask similar questions about the other readings. Who were the “Beloved” to whom St. John was writing? Where did they live?

Who exactly was Jesus praying for in today’s Gospel, just those present with him at the time, or for all his disciples, or for all the disciples there would ever be, including us?

All those questions we happily leave to the scholars. Let them debate to their heart’s content. Ultimately these things, interesting though they may be, are non-essential.

The really important thing about Matthias is the fact that God chose him, which is not the same as saying he was better than Barsabbas. Barsabbas was not chosen, which is not the same as saying he was rejected. The assembled disciples recognized clearly that God’s will is supreme, and so they prayed and left the final choice to God.

That was a bold and brave approach. But it also demonstrated a depth of faith that has not often been equaled in decision making. It might work if we could be genuinely indifferent about the final choice. If you really just couldn’t make up your mind between two or more careers, maybe you could ask God to decide, and then roll the dice. How many people do you know who might actually do that? (“Odds, I’ll go through door A; evens, door B; doubles, door C.”)

John was no less brave or bold or faith-filled, however, when he wrote, “Beloved, if God so loved us, we also must love one another.”

We, too, can be brave and bold and faith-filled. That’s what Jesus prayed to his Father for. “I do not ask that you take them out of the world but that you keep them from the evil one.” (Do you hear the echo here of the Lord’s prayer?) “They do not belong to the world any more than I belong to the world... I consecrate myself for them, so that they also may be consecrated in truth.”

The common thread is obvious. What matters is that Christians witness to Christ. As Matthias was chosen to “become a witness” to the resurrection of Jesus, so too with us. It has never been and never will be easy, but Jesus promised us his help and protection. 

Jesus prayed also, “Holy Father, keep them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one just as we are one.” If only we Christians could truly be one, and could truly love one another, always and everywhere; if only we could truly all “remain in love,” our witness to the Lord could be even more convincing. It’s all about Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, seated at the right hand of the Father, who will come again in glory.

Matthias was never heard from again. No matter. It was never about him (or us) in the first place.

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