Feast of St. Matthias

[Scripture Readings: Acts: 1: 15-17, 20-26; Jn. 15: 9-17 ]

When I reflect on the call of the apostles two frequent responses are gratitude and the challenge of accepting what my own call to be a follower of Christ means. Living in a culture of strong individualism it is easy to overlook our indebtedness to the generations that have gone before us and handed our heritage on to us. Our indebtedness extends not only to the prominent personalities in the history of Christianity, but also to the generations of anonymous men and women who heard Christ’s call to follow him and faithfully responded. We too are called to respond faithfully to Christ’s invitation to be one of his followers and share in his work of bringing the kingdom of God to all times and places.

No matter what specific roles we are assigned in the body of Christ, we all have the obligation to make the kingdom of God present in our particular situations by loving each other and loving all people as Christ has loved us. I do not spontaneously associate love with commands and obligations. Nevertheless, this morning’s gospel makes it clear that love is not optional for Christians; it is a command. This certainly calls us to reassess our culture’s popular understanding of love. There is more to love than how we feel about someone. The gospels tell us to love even our enemies, and few people have pleasant feelings toward someone who is causing them suffering. We are also called to go beyond our logical conclusions that even though I can think of a number of reasons not to, I have an obligation to be kind to this person who is before me. Christ calls us to transcend our feelings and our thinking and behave for the good of all our brothers and sisters.

This is the basis for joy. Like love the completion of our joy cannot be reduced to a feeling. Joy is the result of living as integrated persons who allow Jesus’ command to love one another as he has loved us to integrate our feelings, our thoughts and our behavior. Because we live as integrated persons who practice love according to Jesus’ command we can experience the joy that begins now and lasts into eternity.

Today’s feast of St. Matthias can be a support and an encouragement here. We know very little about St. Matthias. According to St. Peter’s qualifications for a successor to Judas, he was a disciple of Jesus during Jesus’ earthly ministry; but he is not mentioned in the gospels. We only know that he had the respect of the apostles to whom Jesus entrusted the care of the church and the respect of the community who accepted him; and he was approved by the Holy Spirit to be a witness to the resurrection of Jesus through the decision of the Jerusalem community.

We need not let our fear that we will be unimportant and anonymous members of the body of Christ discourage us from responding generously to Christ’s call to share in his work. It is Christ who has called us and who has assigned our responsibilities to us; and it is Christ not ourselves who will evaluate our service and reward us accordingly.

Feast of St. Matthias

[Scripture Readings: Acts: 1:15-17, 20-26; Jn. 15: 9-17]

Although difficult to interpret at times, the gospel and epistles of John are popular with many Christians, because of the emphasis they put on love; especially our love for one another. What can give some readers second thoughts, is the association the Johannine writings make between love and commandment. It seems strange that we need a commandment to love. Isn’t that something we want to do? Yes, but there is a gap between wanting and doing, and the gap can become large when it comes to loving people who make life difficult for us? Are we to simply muster up what will power we can and try to behave decently toward them? That is certainly better than behaving rudely toward people, but is it the love that the New Testament calls us to?

The New Testament calls us to love as God loves and our model of how to love as God loves is Jesus Christ. The gospels make it clear that Jesus had a universal love and he behaved according to it. He reached out to the infirm and cripples that his society rejected and marginalized. He ate with those who were lax in observing the law and who cooperated with the Roman administration, and accepted the criticism and rejection it earned him. He faithfully proclaimed God’s word to those who opposed him and he forgave those who eventually put him to death. That kind of love does not come spontaneously, and I doubt that even the strongest among us can consistently manage it on will power alone.

If we are to love as God loves, we need to love with Christ’s Spirit. We received Christ’s Spirit in baptism; however, the Holy Spirit does not act without our cooperation. Learning to love as Christ loves us is not easy and we fail as we walk along the path of growth; but God is patient with us and if we acknowledge our failures and persevere in following the example of Jesus our love will continually expand.

The apostles were Jesus’ closest disciples and they give us an example of perseverance in following Christ. They frequently misunderstood him during his time on earth and after his resurrection and ascension they continued to learn what it means to be a follower of Christ. With the exception of Judas, they continued to follow him and he patiently corrected them while he was with them and then supported and guided them through the Holy Spirit.

We know little about St. Matthias other than he was one of Jesus’ disciples and the apostles held him in high enough esteem that they nominated him to be numbered with them. In his obscurity he can be an encouragement for us. We may see little in ourselves that would distinguish us for service in spreading the gospel. Nevertheless, God has chosen each of us to share in the mission of the Church. God’s selection is not dependent on what we may consider our qualifications or lack of them. The fruit of our contribution is hidden in the fulfillment of God’s plan to be revealed at the end of time. What God asks of us now is that we follow the guidance of the Holy Spirit and the means the Holy Spirit uses to teach us in humility and trust. Looking forward to the feast of Pentecost we would do well to reflect on how the Holy Spirit has supported and guided us so far, and ask for the gifts we need to persevere in the way of Christ’s faithful followers.

Feast of St. Matthias

[Scripture Readings: Acts 1: 15-17, 20-26; Jn. 15: 9-17 ]

Fr. NeilI think that more often than not most of us consider being chosen for some position an honor. Even if we foresee difficulties in fulfilling the responsibilities the position requires, it means that someone has confidence in our ability to meet the challenge.

What then of being chosen by God as we heard St. Matthias was? Our model of what it means to be chosen by God, as in all of Christian life, is Jesus Christ the Son of God. At his baptism the voice of God testified that Jesus was God’s Son, his beloved, in whom he delighted. The passage points to the first Servant Song in the book of Isaiah and the Servant Songs give us an insight into what it means to be chosen by God. One of the most prominent characteristics that the songs reveal is that service to God is not a position of status and prestige. God’s servant served without ostentation and at times without recognition. Nevertheless he faithfully proclaimed God’s word quietly and gently. There were times when God’s servant experienced a sense of futility, wondering if his work was accomplishing anything. Yet his hope and faith were in God who chose him. There was suffering and rejection. Nevertheless God’s servant was God’s beloved.

St. Matthias Scripture presents a more sobering understanding of love than is prevalent in popular culture. Love as revealed by God’s word goes beyond an immediate experience of affirmation and exhilaration. As Jesus revealed it in this morning’s gospel, love means acting according to his will rather than our own wills, just as he acted according to his Father’s will. It means renouncing our own selves and putting ourselves at God’s disposal and the disposal of our brothers and sisters. Yet, if we can accept it in faith and hope, this will be the fulfillment of our joy.

We know little about St. Matthias, even if we accept the later traditions that grew around him. We only know that the apostles thought he had the capability to carry out the responsibility of being God’s servant, and that God ratified their choice. Each one of us in our own way has also been chosen by God to be his servant. It is truly an honor and if we are faithful in our service, it will be the fulfillment of our joy. More than this we have been chosen not simply to be servants, but Jesus’ friends, even his brothers and sisters.