Don’t we all speculate on how our current crisis could have been different if we’d just done this or that? Prophecies in scripture comfort us to know that God is aware of everything we’re going to do. He lets us continue in our free will anyway. It’s crucial for us to remember that our histories haven’t yet been written for us. And, he dwells within us.
Judas' decision was pre-known by God, and it was important that we all know that God had seen what already took place. Judas did not consider that kind of merciful, prescient God existed.
Image by Clifford Ondini
By John Pearring
The apostles were a man down after Judas died, unceremoniously. The gruesome details of his disembowelment are deleted from today’s first reading. After Jesus spent several weeks with them in their slightly lessened number, he ascended to Heaven. Right after that, somebody pointed out only eleven guys wasn’t Jesus’ design. They needed to fix that.
The remaining fellas likely shouted out scriptures all over the place, in a brainstorming kind of way, in order to figure out how to put their number back to twelve. Peter summarized their search nicely for them, as reported by Luke in Acts.
May another take his office.
They needed to pick someone from the folks they knew. It was up to them to find another to take Judas’ office. They developed a method to search for the candidate and relied upon an age-old ritual for the final tally.
Who wouldn’t want to be selected as part of the 12-man crew allowed to be “one sent,” an apostle of Jesus’ brand spanking new Church? Not sure, but the responses must have varied from overly eager to “Not me!” In any case, the man needed a specific resume. Witnessing Jesus resurrected became a big part of the requirement. Along with knowing Jesus, and being his disciple for a bulk of his three-year ministry, you also had to witness Jesus resurrected after being crucified and buried. And, you needed to me male.
Biblical sources identify 500 men witnessed Jesus as the resurrected Son of God. That’s in 1 Corinthians 15:6, “After that, he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at once, …”
The number Jesus appeared to is likely much larger, because Paul notes that the apostles were appeared to in addition to this number. And he didn't count many of the women. The “five hundred brothers at once” notation seems like a party was held someplace, which has become quite the theatrical event in modern plays and movies.
Five hundred men is a pretty big swath of folks to select from.
There’s no need to waffle and whine over opportunities for women to be apostles. If the idea of men only makes you cringe, all the apostolic positions were men. As NT Wright, Raymond Brown, and Scot Hahn report, “We’re talking 33 A.D. here! Plus, Jesus was a male! C’mon!” (Generously paraphrased.)
Steve Hall does a nice job in his reflection on placing prayer at the focal point of how the apostles, and us, can understand God’s will. Before the apostles got to the time of picking someone, though, a vetting process winnowed the selection down to two men. The element of our participation in decision-making is not lost on God. Nothing gets done without humans taking steps of their own. You could say the hard part was getting 500 plus names down to two. God just had to pick one!
I’d suggest that we consider during any vetting processes for big decisions in our lives that we review what happened here in the apostolic choice which eventually fell upon Matthias. First, a crisis developed that created the decision-making process. Our big issues usually start out the same way.
Did the crisis center upon Judas’ betrayal of Jesus? Peter betrayed Jesus also. Now, it’s not comparable to the abject subversion of Judas, and his taking a bribe. The crisis, you might say then, ended up at Judas’ apparent suicide.
See? This is the kind of stuff we must weigh in developing background for the choices we must make.
I think the crisis was Judas’ betrayal. Judas mourned his decision to take a bribe. At that point he could have hid out, and crawled back to the twelve later. Much like Peter did. Jesus is the one who absolved Peter. The eleven men left were all lost after Jesus death. They had no idea about continuing a ministry of any sort until Jesus rose.
This explains the confusion of how we end up in a crisis. Lots of folks are usually involved in the pain or misery we must attend to. Decision-making requires reflection and review of as many details as God gives us.
If all twelve were still alive when Jesus rose, would Judas have been forgiven like Peter? I believe he may have. At the least, Judas would have been treated like the Pharisees. Eventually, I think Jesus would have removed Judas from his role. That’s pure conjecture, of course. And the Old Testament prophecies that a Judas would do his deed and finish it off with his own demise makes my thinking moot.
Don’t we all speculate on how our current crisis could have been different if we’d just done this or that? Prophecies in scripture comfort us to know that God is aware of everything we’re going to do. He lets us continue in our free will anyway. It’s crucial for us to remember that our histories haven’t yet been written for us. Judas' decision was pre-known by God, and it was important that we all know that God had seen what already took place. Judas did not consider that kind of merciful, prescient God existed.
The eleven decided to replace Judas after the resurrection. This didn’t happen when Jesus was with them. It didn’t even come up. I doubt that Jesus gave them a Bill of Rights and a Constitutional program to follow for such things. The organizational details on picking an apostle, then, were to be done by an holy, prayerful table-full of apostles while they were acting in a complete fog. That they decided upon a twelfth replacement for Judas simply describes their recognition of order.
Keeping our lives in order, maintaining our family memberships and friends is a no-brainer for continuing on a path with God.
The apostles would have disappeared from history without the Pentecost. The casting of lots, noted well by Steve Hall, relied entirely upon faith in God orchestrating the details of their concept of institutional reality. The Church they were to form under such a system would likely match ordinance to ordeal the working of faith they all understood from their Jewish culture. It would have been stale, slow-moving, stodgy, and inept.
While the death by Judas forced the apostles to secure their assignments as Jesus’ inner circle, the Pentecost emblazoned them all with both passion and the knowledge of God’s desire for collaboration. This is the moment in history where we see how God includes us as full collaborators. Co-creators in life, and collaborators in his priesthood, prophecy, and royalty.
Jesus taught the apostles how to heal the sick, raise the dead, and teach the Word. They were emissaries and miracle workers. Their partnership with God was functional, but it would have been a paltry exercise once Jesus was gone. They needed a divine guide more constantly strategic than a once-in-a-while casting of lots to find out what they’d do next.
We, too, get that same Pentecost assistance!
Can you imagine how long it took them to settle on Matthias or Joseph? Their future of holding Eucharist feasts for large crowds, planting worldwide churches, instituting ministries for the sick, poor, orphaned, and even the wealthy extended into an unparalleled growth of Christianity. Even a few outreach churches was way beyond their imaginations, and capabilities.
The Holy Spirit, God actively living inside each of the apostles and every believing disciple, changed the whole game. Casting lots no longer made sense, because God wasn't orchestrating through just signs and symbols. The apostles just had to speak as a group, and their acknowledge together would reveal what God was telling them.
God was right there. And, he is right here. Gather yourselves. Let go of the what-ifs and the cultural pressures. What’s next, God? It’s OK to let us know when we need to know.