It’s interesting how prominent rolls of the dice were in the events of Easter. One of these happened at Christ’s crucifixion, when the Roman soldiers cast lots to determine who would get Jesus’ garments. They didn’t want to divide his tunic among themselves because then it would lose its value. The second dice roll is mentioned in this Sunday’s first reading from Acts (Acts 1:15-17, 20a, 20c-26). This time lots were cast to keep the fabric of Christ’s spiritual garment intact—by restoring the hole Judas Iscariot made in it. Jesus wanted his 12 apostles to represent the integrity of the spiritual fabric of his new church.
With Judas falling to his self-imposed bad luck by betraying Jesus, yet setting the stage for our salvation, lots were cast to determine Judas’ successor. In other words, the disciples put the decision back in God’s court. Would he select another Judas (called Barsabbas) or would the lots fall for Matthias? We won out with the result.
“Then they gave lots to them, and the lot fell upon Matthias, and he was counted with the eleven apostles.”
From the little we know about him, Matthias was the kind of person you would want as a leader: a reluctant one. He wasn’t in this for power or glory, or to participate in the kind of jockeying for position that Jesus once had to squelch among these disciples. Mark tells of this infighting in the account where James and John asked for a seat on either side of Christ’s throne (www.usccb.org/bible/mark/10):
“When the ten heard this, they became indignant at James and John,” Mark writes. “Jesus summoned them and said to them, ‘You know that those who are recognized as rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones make their authority over them felt. But it shall not be so among you. Rather, whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all.”
Matthias was an example of the perfect servant and teacher because he carried on Christ’s example of servanthood. There isn’t much written about what he did, but tradition has it that Matthias was remarkable for his example of ignoring the desires of this world and focusing on the promise of the next one. The Greeks in their menologies tell us that St. Matthias planted the faith about Cappadocia and on the coasts of the Caspian Sea.
This Sunday’s second reading from John (1 Jn 4:11-16) is about the need for all of us to continue that humble example. This doesn’t necessarily mean getting up on a pedestal and shouting beautiful speeches like politicians do to win favor. It means spreading God’s love.
“Beloved, if God so loved us, we also must love one another. No one has ever seen God. Yet, if we love one another, God remains in us, and his love is brought to perfection in us. This is how we know that we remain in him and he in us, that he has given us of his Spirit.”
This mission isn’t easy, and Matthias knew that when he joined his 11 colleagues. He was eventually martyred for attributing to Jesus Christ the love he shared. That name intimidated many in his and in our time. Jesus knew his disciples would be met by hardened hearts, and before leaving them to their mission, Jesus left them with this final prayer to his Father, as related by John in today’s gospel reading (Jn 17:11b-19):
“I do not ask that you take them out of the world but that you keep them from the evil one. They do not belong to the world any more than I belong to the world. Consecrate them in the truth. Your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so I sent them into the world. And I consecrate myself for them, so that they also may be consecrated in truth.”
Jesus cast his lot with 12 scruffy individuals who would be the least likely candidates for any high office. But as we in modern life have learned, we’re rarely well served by the most likely candidates for high office. So that call to service falls to us. If we ask for God’s help as Jesus did, we can’t lose. His dice are loaded.