Homily for May 14th, 2016: Acts 1:15-17, 20-26; John 15:9-17.
Our first reading shows us the Church performing what might be called her first juridical act: finding among Jesus’ disciples one to take the place of Judas Iscariot, who had betrayed the Lord and, unlike Peter who repented, had despaired and taken his own life. Peter, by the Lord’s appointment the Church’s chief shepherd, takes the lead. The man chosen, he says, must be one who has been with us from the day of Jesus’ baptism, until his death, resurrection, and ascension, so that he could be, with us remaining eleven apostles, a witness to [Jesus’] resurrection.
Note how carefully they proceed. Not trusting to human judgment, they choose two of their number who fulfill Peter’s requirement. Then they pray that the Lord will show them which of the two He has chosen. This is the first corporate prayer recorded in the New Testament. Following this, they cast lots. A common Jewish practice, this was done by taking two stones, writing the name of one candidate on each, and then placing both in an open jar. The jar was then shaken until one of the stones fell out.
Who was this Matthias, we want to know? The honest answer is: we don’t know. There are stories about him, but they are legends only. Careful as Peter had been to leave the choice to God, it seems that the Lord had another in mind, a man about whom we know a great deal: a devout Jew named Saul, zealous defender of his Jewish faith, who in baptism became Paul, the great apostle to the wider Gentile world. He is a man to whom Jesus’ words in today’s gospel reading apply, if they ever applied to anyone: “It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain.”
In all this we see, once again, what the Bible shows us repeatedly: that God is the master of surprises, the God of the unexpected. Hence the old saying: If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans.