St Matthias: Second Choice But Not Second Best

The feast of St Matthias reminds us that to be second choice is not necessarily to be second best. Matthias wasn’t originally one of the Twelve, although we are told he had been with Jesus ‘from the beginning’. When the apostles decided that they had to find someone to replace Judas, there was another disciple in the running, Joseph called Barsabbas, also known as Justus. So, Matthias wasn’t an obvious choice, even for the apostles; but he was the choice of the Holy Spirit, to whom they prayed for guidance. I wonder what effect that had on him. Did he have a chip on his shoulder for the rest of his life, feeling he hadn’t quite made the grade; or did he become a man of wide compassion, able to see into the heart of things? I rather think the latter. Matthias’s experience of being an outsider must have stayed with him but it was shot through with a sense of God’s grace and mercy. He knew that to be obscure was no bar to being faithful or to effective work for the Kingdom. He was what St John the Baptist desired to be, very little beside the greatness of God.

This morning, if you have woken up feeling low; if you are sick or believe you are someone of no consequence, be encouraged by the thought of St Matthias. It doesn’t matter whether we race into the Kingdom or limp there, so long as we arrive at last. It doesn’t matter whether we are the Lord’s first, second or five billionth choice, we are, all of us, chosen and called by name. Rejoice!


A Heavenly Second Choice

St Matthias has always been important to me. He is the man chosen by the Church to replace Judas and make up the number of the Twelve (cf Acts 1). All three things are significant. First, we see the Church at work under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, confidently making choices that will determine the future shape of Christianity. Second, we know that Matthias, by his fidelity, must somehow make up for the infidelity of Judas. Third, we are alerted to the significance of the Twelve: it wasn’t possible to leave Judas’s place empty, but the apostles’ choice is also significant— someone who had been with Jesus since his baptism by John but who was not a member of the inner circle. That is why I tend to think of Matthias as a heavenly ‘second choice’, a patron saint for those of us who are not anyone’s first choice for anything, but who bumble along, as best we can, trying to be faithful, trying to do whatever we are asked, and perhaps sometimes tempted to think that we are somehow second-rate.

Saint Matthias

We know very little about Matthias’s subsequent history. He was plucked from obscurity and to obscurity he returned. We can all find encouragement in that. We don’t have to be great by this world’s reckoning to do great things. We don’t have to be known, or singled out as special, we just have to be; and in our obscurity and fidelity we can achieve the greatest of all achievements: the fulfilment of the vocation to which we are called, whatever that may be. That is worth thinking about: the vocation to which we are called, not the one we would choose for ourselves or the one we would like or dream about, but what we are actually meant to be — God’s choice, not ours.

May St Matthias pray for us all, especially those tempted to confuse being a second choice with being second-rate.


St Matthias and Feeling the World’s Pain

One of the expectations of Christian clergy and others is that they will be compassionate. Sometimes this amounts to no more than listening patiently and handing out tissues while someone pours out (or more often, chokes out) their grief and anger. But is that all compassion is? The Latin roots of the word go much deeper. To be compassionate we must suffer with the other, feel with them, not just identify with them intellectually. I wonder how many of us, clergy and religious, could honestly say that is what we do when confronted with the world’s pain? To keep our sanity, to enable us to go on, we sometimes have to place some emotional distance between ourselves and the other’s suffering.

Very often, awareness of having placed limits, of having perhaps lacked the imaginative capacity to sympathize as we think we ought, can lead to feelings of guilt and inadequacy. I think myself they are misplaced. We are not called to be Christian supermen or superwomen; we are called to be Christ in any and every situation; and to be Christ is to allow Christ to work in and through us. He respects our limitations. After all, we are God’s creation! So, we do not need to worry about whether we are being truly compassionate or feeling the world’s pain as we ought. We have only to allow Christ to love others in and through us as best we can. Sometimes not getting too much in the way is more than enough.

If, today, you are called on to deal with a person or situation that seems beyond your strength or ability, take heart from the example of St Matthias. He was chosen to take the place of Judas, whose betrayal of Jesus had caused so much pain both to the Lord and to the disciples. Matthias knew he wasn’t first choice for the job, wasn’t even the surefire choice of the other apostles (who chose between between him and Joseph called Barsabbas, also known as Justus). He had been with Jesus and the others from the beginning, but never in the first rank, never in the close circle we read about in the gospels. He could have had a bit of a chip on his shoulder, but he didn’t. His experience of being ‘outside’ stayed with him ‘inside’. I have a hunch that he was probably the most compassionate of the disciples because he knew not to get in the way. May he pray for us all.


The Forgotten Apostle

St Matthias doesn’t make the headlines very often. Ask the average churchgoer and eyes will tend to glaze, ‘Um, er, didn’t he replace Judas or something?’ Indeed he did. Matthias’s election shows us the early Church in action, acknowledging the importance of the Twelve and claiming both the right and the duty of continuing the succession. Matthias’s fidelity, his having been with the disciples from the beginning, his obscurity and his humility, are tremendously appealing. I made profession of vows on his feast and have always found him, and the gospel of the day, John 15, inspiring. On the eve of Good Shepherd Sunday, he is a good saint to ask for vocations to the priesthood and the religious life.