Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Who You Are

There was a period in my life--around the fourth and fifth grade--where I was particularly uncoordinated and lacking in athletic ability. By the time I reached middle school, I had grown enough heft to compensate. But, for those two years, I wasn't good at anything on the playground. Our P. E. teacher encouraged team sports--kickball, flag football, softball--and we always split up the old-fashioned way: choosing teams. Two gifted athletes were identified as captains, and they took turns choosing their teams.

You know what happened. (Well, probably.) Quickly, I learned the self-protective practice of not looking too eager so that people wouldn't think I was disappointed when more and more names were called before mine. Casually, nonchalantly, I shuffled my feet waiting for my name to be called. It stung a little bit when multiple girls' names were called before mine, but I pretended not to notice. Finally, when the pack was really thin, someone would call my name--not last but close. There were always one or two other kids even slower, even clumsier than I was. (Thank God for Michael and Ashley.) My spot on the team was secure--not picked because of my talent but simply because I wasn't the least talented--chosen for who I wasn't rather than for who I was.

Today, we celebrate the one who wasn't--St. Matthias, the one chosen to replace Judas. We don't know a lot about Matthias. In fact, the only thing we really know about him is learned from the story we read from Acts 1:15-26. After this moment--after the lot falls on him and he is added to the twelve--we don't hear any more of him--not one more mention in the New Testament. Presumably he does apostle-like thinks and carries the good news of Jesus throughout the Roman Empire. Tradition (and we know that by "tradition" that means "stories people told") has it that Matthias brought the faith to Cappadocia and the coast of Turkey, but we don't have any real evidence of that--just stories.

Because there is so little told about Matthias after his election, we still think of him as the one chosen to replace Judas. Even the collect for his feast day underscores that lamentable fact: "Almighty God, who in the place of Judas chose your faithful servant Matthias to be numbered among the Twelve..." We aren't in any way acknowledging anything that Matthias did--only that God chose him to be the non-Judas. In Peter's speech to the faithful, there is far more attention paid to the tragic death of the betrayer than to the choice that was before them. Even the other candidate seems better known as he is identified as "Joseph called Barsabbas, who was also known as Justus." The guy has two different nicknames! Matthias is just Matthias. On his saintly, apostolic resume, Matthias' greatest achievement is being the not-Judas, not-Justus guy on whom the lot fell.

But, actually, there's more to it than that. We may not know a lot about Matthias individually, but Peter's description of the qualifications for a replacement apostle are substantial: "One of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us--one of these must become a witness with us to his resurrection." No, Matthias was never mentioned in the gospel accounts. His name was not specified as a friend of Jesus. But, when it came time to pick someone to be a chief witness of the resurrection, the apostles needed someone who had been with them from the beginning and stayed with them through the end. Matthias was one of two who qualified. Think about that: he was one of two who had been as faithful as the other eleven disciples.

For the whole time that Jesus was travelling and preaching and healing and stirring up trouble, Matthias was there. Never mentioned, never noticed by a gospel writer, Matthias was faithful. And, when God looked upon him, God saw something that we cannot see--something we do not know. The Old Testament lesson from Morning Prayer for today is 1 Samuel 16:1-13. In that story, God sends Samuel to Bethlehem to anoint a new king for Israel--someone to take Saul's place. When the first seven of Jesse's sons pass before Samuel, each time the Lord says to the prophet, "This isn't the right one. It's someone else." Finally, when David the youngest is brought it, the Lord says to Samuel, "Arise, anoint him, for this is he." The lesson for the prophet and for us is that "the Lord sees not as mortals sees: mortals look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” We might not know what happened to Matthias, but we know that God saw something in him that we might not see. God chose him not because of who he wasn't but because of who, in God's eyes, he was.

What does God see when he looks upon you? Is your faithfulness conspicuous? Is your piety private? Do you shut the door and pray in secret? Or is the best you have to offer God already on display for everyone to see? For whose team are you trying to be chosen? Which captain are you hoping will pick you? Your priest? Your friends? Or the one who sees who you are and chooses you because he wants you--exactly you?

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