Thursday, February 24, 2011

Failing Hindsight

I think St. Matthias, whose feast we celebrate today, reveals that hindsight isn’t always 20/20. Often, it may be, but sometimes was can’t figure out the reasons behind an event or a decision even centuries after it happened.

Judas Iscariot was chosen by Jesus to be one of the twelve—part of his inner circle. Ultimately, of course, Judas betrayed Jesus, and much has been written over the years about why Jesus would have invited a traitor into his company. Hindsight helps us make sense of that decision as we now understand that Jesus’ victory over death depended upon his death on the cross, which Judas facilitated through his treachery. We might not fully understand the reasons behind Jesus’ choice, but we can use hindsight to figure it out well enough to move on.

St. Matthias, who was chosen by lot to replace Judas in order to reconstitute the twelve apostles (Acts 1:12-26), took a rather tarnished seat at the apostolic table. I wonder whether he felt any pressure to perform. Not only had his predecessor been the one to betray the King of Kings, but he was every bit a “Johnny-Come-Lately,” as the other disciples had been doing this for a while. As the lots were cast and the lot fell on Matthias, I doubt anyone knew exactly what would happen in the days ahead. I can imagine one of the twelve saying under his breath, “Matthias, huh? I figured it would be Barsabbas, but go figure. Well, we’ll see how this goes.”

The only problem is that we don’t get to see how this goes. After his selection as the twelfth man, Matthias is never heard from again—at least not in the record of scripture. We don’t ever get to see why Matthias worked out. We don’t get the benefit of hindsight in this case. And that tortures me. If the disciples trusted the Holy Spirit to guide the casting of the lots, shouldn’t we get to see evidence of why the divine choice of Matthias worked out in the end? Shouldn’t the writer of scripture have filled out the story in a way that satisfied that urge in me that wants everything to wrap up?

Usually, scripture—including prophecy—is written from the perspective of hindsight. The Old Testament lesson that is appointed in the Daily Office for this feast day (1 Samuel 16:1-13) is the anointing of David by Samuel. In that story, we read that God has rejected King Saul and that Samuel is sent by God to select the youngest shepherd-son of Jesse—a youngster whom no one at the time could have picked as Israel’s next king. But, by the time the account is written, David’s identity as God’s chosen servant (as well as Saul’s identity as God’s rejected leader) had been revealed to all of God’s people. And today’s story is recorded because it helps us see how God’s providential hand had been a part of the story even before anyone else could see it. In scripture, hindsight is a given. It’s how we understand God’s will for the world.

Matthias’ story, however, is different. The author of Acts included in his account the selection of Matthias even though we never get to see why God’s hand had been upon him. Maybe Luke himself didn’t know how the story ended. Since we don’t get to read “the rest of the story,” we are forced to remain unsatisfied, ignorant of how hindsight may shape our understanding of Matthias’ election. And maybe that’s the point. Sometimes I don’t get to see how or why God works in the world. He’s working in so many ways that I will never be conscious of. St. Matthias teaches me to allow God to work in ways that never make sense, encouraging me to trust what I can’t and might never be able to see.

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