Today is the feast of the Apostle about whom we know next to nothing. Saint Matthias’ name does not even occur in any one of the Gospels. He appears once in the first chapter of The Acts of the Apostles and then is never heard from again. Historical accounts of Matthias after Pentecost are contradictory and thoroughly unreliable. What then are we to say about this Apostle? How does one preach about his life, when we know virtually nothing about him?
We do know that, after the Ascension of Jesus, Saint Peter addressed the Apostles and Disciples and, after referring to prophecies regarding Judas’ betrayal, declared that they should choose another to fill the place among the Apostles left vacant by Judas. Saint Peter declared:
“Therefore, of these men who have accompanied us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John to that day when He was taken up from us, one of these must become a witness with us of His resurrection.” And they proposed two: Joseph called Barsabas, who was surnamed Justus, and Matthias. And they prayed and said, “You, O Lord, who know the hearts of all, show which of these two You have chosen to take part in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas by transgression fell, that he might go to his own place.” And they cast their lots, and the lot fell on Matthias. And he was numbered with the eleven apostles.
Thus, because of the failings of another, through no obvious merits of his own, Matthias was raised up into a group which he had not been a part of originally and was accorded all of the benefits of being an Apostle. By the way, the name “Matthias” means “Gift of the LORD.”
Hopefully, you can now see that we all are Matthias.
The Gospel reading for today comes from St. John’s Gospel and begins with Jesus teaching, “I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned.” (15:1, 6) Consider the Our Lord’s words in the Gospel along-side St. Paul’s teaching to the Romans:
And if some of the branches were broken off, and you, being a wild olive tree, were grafted in among them, and with them became a partaker of the root and fatness of the olive tree, do not boast against the branches. … You will say then, “Branches were broken off that I might be grafted in.” Well said. Because of unbelief they were broken off, and you stand by faith. (11:17-20)
Herein we see our story. The Jews would not accept Jesus as the Messiah so they were broken off as withered branches. The Gentiles, that would be us, did accept Jesus as the Messiah and, though born of a wild vine, were grafted into the True Vine. This is not counted to us as merit because faith itself is a gift of the Holy Spirit (I Corinthians 12:9). We have been grafted into the True Vine and become partakers of the “fatness of the olive tree” by faith, as a gift of the LORD, a Matthias, as it were.
I once heard a preacher declare, “I do not ever forget that I am only here because the person who was here before me failed.” He elaborated, Joshua led Israel because Moses failed in the wilderness; David became King of Israel because Saul had failed in the position. Matthias became an Apostle because Judas had not lived up to the standards set for that company. I can think of more than a few pastors who came into their positions because of the failings or even the abandonment of their predecessors.
Saint Matthias is a living reminder of God’s grace to and for us. He was “grafted in” to the company of the Apostles, not through his own merits, but by God’s grace. We were grafted into the company of the Children of God, not through our own merits, but by God’s grace. Saint Matthias is also a warning to us. He silently warns, “I am here because someone else failed and was thrown into the fire. The same thing could happen to me if I stop taking my nourishment from the True Vine and stop bearing good fruit. The same thing might happen to you…”
May we always draw our nourishment from Jesus Christ who is the True Vine. May His nourishment produce good fruit in us, which in turn becomes the seed that brings those who do not know the LORD to the knowledge and love of Jesus Christ.
Almighty God, who in the place of Judas chose your faithful servant Matthias to be numbered among the Twelve: Grant that your Church, being delivered from false apostles, may always be guided and governed by faithful and true pastors; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen