May 14, 2020
by Dennis Hamm, S.J.
Creighton University's Department of Theology - retired
click here for photo and information about the writer

Feast of Saint Matthias, Apostle
Lectionary: 564

Acts 1:15-17, 20-26
Psalms 113: 1-2, 3-4, 5-6, 7-8
John 15:9-17

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What is it about the number 12 that was so important to the apostles? The fact that eleven of the original Twelve remained faithful to Jesus seems a pretty good survival rate. Could they not carry on the mission with that inner core of eleven? Well, the importance of the number Twelve goes back to Jesus’ choice. And it was clearly a deliberate choice on his part.

The best explanation is easy to figure. The Jewish expectation regarding the Messianic age involved the restoration of the twelve tribes of Israel, now scattered around the Mediterranean. Jesus was proclaiming the end time coming of the Reign of God. To illustrate that he was planting the seeds for that ingathering of the tribes, he selected twelve males-- twelve, to remind people of the twelve tribes; and males, to remind people of the patriarchs. So choosing twelve men was a prophetic symbolic action. Jesus was saying, in effect, “The Reign of God is at hand, and these twelve men will be at the heart of the restored Israel that will manifest and help implement this new divine intervention.

After the resurrection and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost, the first Christian community emerges in response to Peter’s preaching. In writing this history, Luke makes a point of emphasizing that the Jerusalem Christian community is drawn from that crowd of Jewish pilgrims gathered for the Jewish feast of Pentecost from every corner of the diaspora (Acts 2:5-11). At the center of that community stand the primary witnesses the resurrection of Jesus—the new Twelve, the Eleven plus Matthias, who was with the early disciples since the baptism of John (Acts 1:21-22).

The New Testament tells no more about Matthias, but there is no doubt that, as one who had been following Jesus from the beginning, his sense of himself and his purpose matched that address of Jesus in today’s gospel: It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name he may give you. This I command you: love one another.  Jesus is addressing not just the original Twelve but all disciples, which includes you and me. The mission is simple: bear fruit! And the means: Love one another and continue the mission! In the midst of our global experience of the COVID-19 virus, I am moved to pray:

Gracious God, in this Fifth week of Easter season, our thoughts continue to apply the Scriptures to our mission of following our Risen Lord in our own day. And now as we celebrate the feast of Saint Matthias, we are given the special readings of the feast. At this moment, when we are thrown off balance by the current pandemic, we have new reasons to cry out for help. Just when we are already disturbed by various kinds of political unrest and even divisions within our Church, along comes this unexpected challenge of the coronavirus. Lord, give us the gift of solidarity with all the victims of this disease. And just as Matthias was surprised by the call of Peter and the first 12 members of the church, yet found himself readied by your Holy Spirit, give us the generosity and courage to respond to his fresh call to follow your Son in the new ways you call us to live the apostolic mission of your renewed People. Teach us to imitate Jesus’ profound trust in you, incarnate as he was in our kind of flesh. Help us bear fruit by dying to sin and the fear of death and by leaning on the power and promise of his resurrection.

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