It is one of the oddest stories in the New Testament. In the last six weeks or so the disciples, the followers of Jesus, have seen him be betrayed by one of them.

They’ve seen Jesus arrested, tortured, and executed. They’ve seen their despair turn into joy at the unbelievable news of Jesus’ resurrection. The resurrected Jesus has been with them for 40 days, teaching them, appearing in locked rooms with them, even cooking them breakfast. 

But now he has gone again, up into heaven, leaving them one last time.   

Before he goes, Jesus gives them a promise and a command.

The promise is that the Holy Spirit will come upon them and give them power. 

The command is that they are to be his witnesses, to bring the Gospel not only to those in the areas around them, but to the ends of the earth.

No one really understands what it means for the Holy Spirit to come upon them. 

But they do know that if they are to carry out Jesus’ command that they must be organized. The first thing that means is to choose a replacement for Judas, the one among them who betrayed Jesus. They want to be known as “The Twelve” again.

Peter, who has become their leader, lays out the requirement for the job. It must be someone who has also been a follower of Jesus; someone who was not part of the 12, but was faithful to Jesus from the beginning, and who witnessed the resurrected Jesus.

There are two among them who meet these qualifications, Matthias and Barsabbas.

Here is where the story becomes odd.

How would we go about filling such an important spot. Interviews, background checks, references. Today those things are required for even the simplest jobs.

But to decide who should take on this important role the disciples cast lots.

It’s like deciding who should be president by the flip of a coin; who to hire by rolling the dice; choosing a bishop by drawing straws.

The winner of this odd hiring process is Matthias.

And then comes another oddity. We might expect to never hear about anything more about Barsabba. But Matthias, the winner, is also never heard from again. He is mentioned in the Bible exactly one time. 

Some Biblical scholars believe that the reason Matthias is never mentioned again is because God did not approve of the process, or because Peter and the others should have waited for the Holy Spirit before taking on such an important task.

“The very fact that Matthias is never again mentioned should serve as a warning,” New Testament scholar Justo Gonzalez says. “Do not try to force the Spirit to act toward serving our own purposes.”

Maybe so. But I believe there is another way to think about why Matthias was never heard from again. Maybe he represents the millions of ordinary men and women through the centuries who have quietly gone about the work of spreading the good news of the Gospel.

We tend to think that it is the big names and splashy acts that are important in the church, and in the eye of God.

That is certainly what Richard Lischer thought. In his book Open Secrets: A Spiritual Journey Through a Country Church,” he writes of his disdain for the first congregation he served, a small church in rural Illinois. After all, he had a PhD in theology, which would be wasted on a community of farmers.

“Of course I knew that Christendom needed unstrategic little churches like this one,” he later wrote. ‘But I bitterly resented the bureaucrats who had misfiled my gifts, misjudged my obvious promise, and put me in rural confinement.”

In his first sermon Lischer quoted James Joyce, Heidegger, Camus, and Walker Percy. He spoke about the problem of meaninglessness. 

“It didn’t occur to me that Marx’s critique of religion rarely came up for discussion at the post office,” he said. 

Lischer came to understand that he had failed to honor the Matthias’, the ordinary men and women of faith sitting in the pews.

“Why couldn’t I see the revelation of God in our little church?” he wrote years later. “In our community everyone pitched in and learned to ‘pattern’ a little girl with cerebral palsy. We helped one another put up hay before the rains came. We grieved when a neighbor lost his farm. As a people, we walked the fields every April and blessed the seeds before planting them.

“Weren’t these all signs of church that were worthy of mention in a Sunday homily? Whatever lay closest to the soul of the congregation I unfailingly omitted from my sermons. I didn’t despise these practices. I simply did not recognize them for what they were.”

Who are the Matthias’ in our lives? Who are the quiet men and women whose names will not be mentioned even once in any book? 

Maybe it’s a Sunday School teacher who first taught you about God’s love. Maybe it’s someone who invited you to come along to work at a soup kitchen or spend the night in a homeless shelter.

Maybe it’s someone who showed by example that all people, especially those on the margins of society, were worthy of being treated with dignity and respect.

In my own life, I think of Michael — a priest who welcomed me warmly when I returned to church after a 12-year absence, and who invited me to become more deeply involved in study and the works of the church.

I think of one of our own parishioners, David Abner, in hospice just days from death, whose faith was so sure and grounded that he looked shocked when I asked him if he was afraid of dying. “Why would I be afraid of going to God?” he asked.

These are the people who have kept the faith of Jesus alive for centuries, who have passed it on to others. If we open our eyes we can see them all around us. And whether you know it or not, you may be among them.


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