Homily: “On Saint Matthias and Providence”

Offered by Father Matthew Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Parish of Tazewell County on the Feast of Saint Matthias the Apostle, 2019.

There are times when I just do not know what I will be making for dinner. When the regular dishes do not have that spark, well, one just starts with whatever ingredient you want to base your cooking around, and go from there: a little of this, a little of that, and so on. Sometimes one finds oneself at the grocery store, not knowing what one plans to make for dinner. And this can be dangerous, especially if at that moment you are hungry. But you walk through the aisles of the grocery store—produce, dairy, meat, and the boxed goods—waiting for inspiration. Waiting to be reminded. Waiting even, well, for a sign.

When we hear from Saint Luke in the Acts of the Apostles that the company of persons gathered in the Upper Room (about a hundred and twenty) cast lots to determine who would replace Judas in the college of the twelve apostles, and we learn that “casting lots,” though a well-attested biblical practice throughout the Scriptures, is something along the lines of rolling dice or playing the lottery, hoping the ping-pong balls come out with the right numbers—when we learn this, we are tempted to regard the early Church as superstitious or naïve. Yet we should resist this temptation, for we often leave important matters—such as what’s for dinner—up to something we call “chance.”

The company of one hundred and twenty—constituting what we can regard as the first parish—had a strong belief in the Providence of God by means of the Holy Spirit. And they had good reason for this belief. The things that Jesus said would happen had happened and were continuing to happen. This was a group of people fresh off an astonishing series of events: the Ascension of Jesus, preceded by a whole host of resurrection appearances by Jesus in His glorious Body that Scripture insists was an objective reality, and that after His resurrection after gruesome and utterly deflating death on the Cross, which was immediately on the heels of a public show-trial that was little more than a riot in the public square, and this after He had instituted the Eucharist as His permanent gift of unfathomable love—and of course this preceded by His three years of public ministry in which the hearts of each and every one of the one hundred and twenty people in the Upper Room Parish were cut to the heart time and time again—changing the direction of their lives and focusing their lives toward a singular shared purpose of unity with God for eternal life.

Furthermore, their prayer life together in the Upper Room Parish was one that broke open the Scriptures—that they found Jesus everywhere in the Books of Moses, the Prophets, and the Writings. They found His guidance in the Psalms, as we hear Saint Peter proclaiming (and this is a subtle but unmistakable indication that in those nine days in the Upper Room, they were praying the Psalms through what we call the daily Offices both Morning and Evening). They remembered Jesus’ words of teaching, and shared them together that the fruits of profound hidden meanings might be found, and the guidance as to what to do next discerned.

They remembered, as Saint John recorded, Jesus say, “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you will, and it shall be done for you.” They remember how much Jesus said He would possess them, as a vine possesses all its branches. And here again we see the biblical basis for the stark words of our Collect last week—that we can do no good thing without God—as a branch can do nothing that leads to growth or fruit without being part of the vine. The positive expression of that is Jesus’s strong teaching to abide in His love: abide in His words, His actions, His life, His person. Savor them, and allow ourselves to rest in them.

The Upper Room Parish also remembered that Jesus taught that “When the Spirit of truth comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on his own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak, and He will declare to you the things that are to come.” And before His Ascension He again promised the coming of the Holy Spirit—that they would be plunged into the reality of the Holy Spirit (because “plunging” is what the word “baptism” means). We see this happening, because in Luke’s telling, what follows on the selection of Matthias by lots—meaning allowing the Holy Spirit to make evident His wish; this was no partisan election or straw poll; they asked the Holy Ghost to show everyone whom He wanted to replace Judas—what follows on this is the Coming of the Holy Ghost not only as evident to them (because He had already come to them numerously in private and small-group ways) but as a public reality evident to all of Jerusalem—a staggering explosion of spiritual energy that continues to empower everything that we do.

It is rightly said that the Kalendar of the Church teaches the faith. Through our cycles through the seasons—Advent into Christmas into Epiphany—we have learned how Jesus manifested the glory of His being the Eternal Light of the Father. Our tour through the Saints also teaches the faith—for we see through their lives how the Gospel is lived out. In the case of Saint Matthias, we know precious little about him and his ministry—the strongest evidence is that he later travelled to lands in and around present day Turkey and planted Christian communities. His symbol is a bible and a sword—so he was faithful to the Scriptures and he died from martyrdom. His primary teaching for us is found in how he was selected, because it indicates the level of trust and surrender to the Providence of God through His Holy Spirit that the Upper Room Parish had, and that we should have as well. Allowing God to show us what to do as a Parish is how we demonstrate our surrender to Him, our total dependence upon Him. And according to the pattern of the Sacred Scriptures, abandonment of our selves to God anf surrender to His Providence is not an option, but rather necessary for the spiritual health of a parish.

Icon by the hand of Aidan Hart.