Inequalities | St Matthias

I should like to think it was a whispering of the Holy Spirit that made the Institute for Fiscal Studies announce its investigation into inequalities in Britain and the risk they pose to democracy at the very time I had been musing on today’s feast of St Matthias and a few ideas culled from Thomas Picketty. I know it wasn’t, but there may still be something to be said for thinking about inequality in the context of today’s feast.

During the Easter season we are confronted with some idealised portraits of the early Church. There is the well-known account of Acts 4 which suggests that the first disciples shared everything with truly sacrificial love so that no-one was in want. Then we read St Paul or St James and encounter the familar world of squabbling and selfishness that seems to mark the Church in every age. The ideal remains an ideal, but it is not as perfectly realised as we might hope.

Then there is the election of St Matthias, as recorded in Acrs 1. I must admit to feeling sympathy with him and wonder how he got on with Peter and the rest. Was he taken for granted, treated as a hanger-on rather than as a genuine disciple until that moment when they realised they needed to make up the number of the Twelve? He had been with Jesus throughout his earthly ministry, but never as one of the close inner circle. Were there petty resentments and occasional harsh words — a feeling of being exclided or undervalued on one side and superiority on the other? Who knows? The apostles became saints, but they didn’t start that way.

Even now, when Matthias was to be chosen as an apostle, it was made clear his role was to make up the number of the Twelve, to replace Judas; whatever merits he possessed, he had to recognize he wasn’t the only possibility, and he was subject to scrutiny by those who had been chosen directly by the Lord. The choice between him and Barsabbas had no fore-gone conclusion. It is almost as if Matthias did not exist in his own right but was the eternal second-best. Almost, but not quite. The writer of Acts tells us that the apostles prayed and made their choice. The election of Matthias is claimed as a work of the Holy Spirit, and what higher endorsement can there be than that?

Within the Church, as within society in general, many inequalities exist and it takes wisdom as well as hard work to discern which are crippling and should be eliminated, and which are merely accidental and can’t be altered (like the fact that my sister was blessed with the fair hair I longed for as as child but wasn’t). I think today’s feast reminds us of something that may make us uncomfortable. We think a great deal about poverty and relieving the lot of the poor, but we do not always think about how we deal with inequality. Even within the Church we can ignore or undervalue those we think unimportant or take for granted, or treat some with less regard than we do others, yet it is often the steadfastness of those ‘unimportant people’ that keeps everything going. Inequality can be more dangerous than poverty, as I think both Thomas Picketty and Sir Angus Deaton would agree. It is certainly less excusable.

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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!Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail

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.Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail

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.Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail

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.Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail