This passage, from the Acts of the Apostles, has always fascinated
me. In the aftermath of the death and resurrection of Jesus, the
Early Christian community was called upon to choose a replacement
This group was given the choice between two eligible candidates:
Joseph Barsabbas (also known as Justus) and Matthias. Since today
is the feast of St. Matthias, Apostle, it’s pretty clear who
In these kinds of passages, I’m always curious about what
happened to the” loser.” We never definitively hear
about Joseph Barsabbas again. Oh, sure there are legends. But what
really became of him? We assume, of course, that he remained among
the Early Christian community, only not as an apostle. What a fate,
though, to be a loyal follower of Jesus and one step away from the
chosen 12, only to lose out.
These political mechanizations are necessary among organized groups,
yet they all have the same phenomenon in common: one person will
be named and rise, and one or more others will fall back into the
background, perhaps to disappear from the organization’s record
altogether. It all seems so – what is the word? – human.
This all contrasts with the Gospel passage, which is about love
and friendship. “No one has greater love than this, to lay
down one’s life for one’s friends.” Could it be
that the outcome of the election provided a greater spiritual opportunity
for Joseph Barsabbas than for Matthias? Having lost the chance to
become an apostle, he was in a position to go one of two ways –
to cut his losses and seek another group, or to “lay down
his life,” therefore continuing on in loyalty, fully supporting
the chosen Matthias.
Since my daughters swim in a swim club here in Omaha, Nebraska,
I had the privilege of watching many races over the years. Some
of the races were blowouts, with the winner winning by a few seconds
or more. But some of the races were very close, with perhaps a tenth
or a hundredth of a second separating the winner from the next swimmer.
I have seen races where everyone was sure that one swimmer was going
to win, only to see that swimmer get “out-touched” by
another swimmer at the last second.
I often think, when I see the second-place swimmer bow her head
in disappointment, how many times the difference between jubilation
and remorse hangs in the balance of perhaps one hundredth of a second.
We focus on times; it’s good that the second-place swimmer
reflects on her progress – perhaps it was a best time ever
for her. Also it is probable that the second-place swimmer pushed
the winner to swim a best time. The winner “owes” at
least a part of the credit for her winning performance to that second-place
In the case of Matthias and Joseph Barsabbas, maybe Joseph’s
presence as a serious candidate made Matthias a better leader. Perhaps
Joseph’s presence was the difference between Matthias the
Disciple and Matthias the Saint.