Sunday, May 10, 2015

Acts 1.15-16: Added to the Eleven

Twelve is a number that means something. So when the disciples find themselves as eleven, they determine to add to their number (Acts 1:15-16, Easter 7B). Two men meet the criteria of having been with the group from the beginning: Joseph (aka Barsabbas aka Justus) and Matthias. The lot falls on Matthias, and he is added to the eleven.

And then...nothing. We don't hear anything further about Matthias in scripture. He disappears from view, eclipsed in history (as is almost everyone else in this era) by the work of Paul. In the dome mosaic of the Neonian Baptistery in Ravenna, Italy, twelve figures surrounding the central image of Jesus' baptism at the Jordan. But Matthias is not among the twelve. He has been replaced by Paul. In other artistic depictions, Matthias is mistakenly given the attributes of Matthew, whose name is similar. Matthias is usually shown with the instrument of his beheading.

The narrative episode most often depicted is Matthias' selection as one of the twelve. The disciples are gathered together, and the "lots" are prepared. They may be pieces of paper, a stone or a pebble carved with a symbol. They may be spread out on a table or gathered together in a container. This process was time-honored. In Leviticus (16:8), I Chronicles (25:8) and other places in Hebrew scripture, lots are cast to discover divine will. The lot falls on Matthias. In the stained glass window below, one piece of paper is unrolled, and it has Matthias' name written on it.
 The Election of Matthias as One of the Twelve. 1875. Church of St. Mor and St. Deiniol, Llanfor, Gwynedd, Wales.
Legend says that the remains of Matthias are in St. Matthias Abbey Church in Trier, Germany. At the direction of Helena, the mother of Constantine, the apostle's remains were equally divided between Trier and a church in Rome. On the church's exterior is a sculpture of the apostle standing with the expected halberd and with a book open to John 15: "You are my friends." Inside the church, above the apostle's tomb is a carved effigy. Between the building's exterior and interior, between the apostle's guardpost outside and resting place inside, he has lost his sandals. It is the image of a barefoot Matthias who is at eternal rest. Why is he barefoot? Does that tell us something about him?
Statue of St. Matthias and Effigy of St. Matthias. St. Matthias Abbey Church, Trier, Germany.
Ultimately, what are we to do with this man who is chosen as the result of sincere discernment but who leaves no lasting historic record? Perhaps we are to understand that for Matthias it was enough to respond to God's call and then to do the work that God gave him, whether that work made history or not. And perhaps that experience is more like the experience of most of us.

More Easter 7B, more election of Matthias, more stained glass and more bare feet are at the Art&Faith Matters Facebook page. Click here.

For thoughts on John 17:6-19, click here.

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