Matthius: The Forgotten Apostle?
Reflections on being a disciple and following your calling
The Rev. Peter E. Lanzillotta, Ph.D.
Good Morning! Now here is a quick quiz for all of you New Testament and Christian Scholars out there? How many apostles were there? 12, right? Maybe, 13… The complete answer that most scholars would agree on is 14; maybe 15 at the outside edges… Depending of course whether you believe that women could be apostles….
There are, without doubt, the traditional 12… And of the 12, one, Judas, hung himself due to the shame of his betrayal, so another took his place- that’s 13, and if one is open to accept Paul as an apostle, that’s 14… And If, as the Russian, Syrian, and Greek Orthodox do, accept Mary Magdelene as an apostle, then the final answer is 15!
Well, it not quite the final answer, the most inclusive, yet still penultimate answer is 85…. (Jesus sent out another 70…) And the final answer?… Well, you can decide that for yourselves after the end of my sermon!
Today, I am unwilling to argue the merits of whether Paul was an apostle, and I savor a later discussion of Mary Magdeline as an apostle, so I will focus today on number 13- the most obscure of all the rest… Matthius….
In all the Christian Scriptures, accepted and controversial, they all agree that Matthius has only one reference in Scripture, and an oblique one at that! In the Book of Acts, he is mentioned as one of the two men being considered to replace Judas among the 12… There is a casting of lots, and it was he who was chosen ….And that’s it! Nothing in Scripture, and barely a word in Early Church tradition follows… He is quickly mentioned, and promptly forgotten! There is a flimsy reference to him as a wandering apostle whose faith witness took him to the far away lands of Asia Minor and the Caspian Sea, and that he died, like almost every one of the apostles did- violently- and little else is known to us. Yet, no matter how sparse the reference is, it got me thinking about some interconnecting themes and some larger question for this morning’s consideration: First, what is an apostle, anyway?
Since we know so little about most of the apostles, what we can we glean from examining scholarly history is short and not so sweet… And while facts are an important consideration in any assessment of truth, they do not always provide the complete story, and rarely do they assist us in a full disclosure or discovery. Only the more poetic, imaginative, and inductive understanding of our lives, or more aptly, the whole story of our lives can do that for us. It is a lot like the difference between an obituary and a eulogy; one states the facts and worldly accomplishments of your life, and the other lifts up what your life has meant to you and how it primarily has affected others who have shared it with you. We are, after all, not our resumes… but we might well be the sum total of the quality and impact of our relationships.
There are various approaches to the study of sacred texts… Most often, and the most common is the concern for accuracy and historical veracity. This is a rigorous discipline and it is an admirable apporach in and of itself. We trust our scholars to provide us with as true and as accurate a picture of historical events as possible. However, this rigor is not suitable for the psychological and spiritual comprehension of any text- be it a poem, Scripture, a story or a dream. We ask ourselves what is the meaning of this person, this dream, this event is for us personally, and even the best scholarship cannot answer that fully. So we turn to a more inductive approach…
One that allows for our personal subjectivity to hold the key- we allow ourselves to imagine how being there in the first person would feel for us, and then we can use those feelings and thoughts as a means to unlock the riddle or solve the puzzle of greater understanding for us…
Strictly speaking, there is a great, historical and theological difference between an apostle, a disciple, and a follower…. And yet, when taken from a more inductive viewpoint, I believe that we are all apostles and disciples of something in our lives.
First, the more narrow and traditional definition, an apostle, according to Scripture is a follower who has a direct experience of the Easter Jesus- the risen Christ- and that direct witness confers on that person the title of apostle. All others who believe or who follow are disciples, even though the two terms are commonly interchanged.
From a wider and more inclusive point of view, a disciple is someone who follows the disciplines or the teachings of a tradition. It is someone who is devoted or who holds a deep allegiance or loyalty to a particular school of thought, to a teacher, or to a approach to life. One can be a disciple of Socrates, or Aristotle; a disciple of science or medicine; a devotee of Buddha or Krishna, a follower of Mohammed or Lao Tse ; you can be a disciple of a school or style of art, or be devoted to one branch of music or genre of literature. Commonly, we hear a reference to someone being a disciple or as a leading advocate of a political system; Generally, it refers to anyone who has a particular dedication- even if it is to a special diet, and since the words and ideas behind both fan and fanatic come from the same root source, the idea of a disciple can be stretched all the way out to how avidly you follow your hobby or favorite sports team.
More directly, many philosophers, theologians and psychologists will define a life by what you come to love and respect; what your discipline is, and what you are willing to devote your time, energy, money and personal resources to achieving or supporting.
This morning, as a beginning exercise in inductive religious study, I am asking you to try to relate to this forgotten apostle, Matthias in some way… Because we distinctly lack information, and are given scarce facts, we do not wish to let anyone, in the words of Emily Dickinson, “die obscure” so in order that his story can be better understood, we can begin to understand and appreciate him through our own life experiences. To accomplish this, we employ a more artistic and imaginative approach. In this way, Matthius, any of the various characters from Scripture, or any personalities from great literature, or drama, can become alive, compelling or inspiring for you…
From the willingness to suspend factual analysis and linear thinking, we permit ourselves to ask- What if this person were me? What if I were there? Would I have acted in the same way, or would I have tried to change the outcome in some way?
So let’s begin to ask some questions as if you were like Matthius, or had a similar situation in your life…
Q: Have you ever been the subject of a bet? Did anyone ever bet on you or did anyone ever expect you to win? Did you feel any pressure? And conversely, did you ever win without trying, were you ever chosen without necessarily wanting the prize, the job, or the person involved? How did you respond?
In ancient times, the practice of casting lots was employed to determine an important outcome; it was far more than a mere game of chance or child’s play… It was considered to be a sacred way of coming to a decision- sort of a holy dice game, or an inspired game that allowed the Spirit to step in, or that allowed Fate to determine the outcome. Then, once the choice was determined, it required that the players would trust that the outcome was ” for the best” and that it was somehow foreordained or its outcome was divinely chosen.
Q: Have you ever felt as if you were chosen or called to do something- something vital, important, noteworthy with your life?
And conversely, have you ever been passed over, in some abitrary way for a promotion, or for recognition… Just to find out that it was indeed, a fortunate failure… All the world faiths, in one way or another, teach this: That there is no such thing as absolute free will; Some of the greatest experiences of our lives have been already chosen for us, have been outlined for us, and are in some way imposed on us. The value and lasting importance of these outside decisions are framed or determined by how we respond to the twists and turns of choice and fate, duty and opportunity.
We do not have complete free will because of our previous choices, or our parent’s choices and decisions, but we always retain the freedom of how we are going to respond to the calls to discipleship we receive in our lives: how well we handle the lessons, demands, choices, and challenges that life presents to us. One of the most useful definitions of faith fits here: That faith is not simply what one believes, as much as it is how one lives- the measure of one’s faith, one’s trust, one’s strength, or one’s confidence comes from how we respond to what choices we are given, and how determined we are to make the best of the choices we have, and the decisions we need to make.
When considering Matthius, or the life of any disciple, what genuinely distinguishes a person and a call is the personal experience of its power and impact on your life. Whenever we have a personal encounter, a sustaining or intimate experience of a transcendent truth, whether it is of a religious nature or not, you can feel called- mainly because the subsequent effects of the event on our lives. We are changed. Even if the meeting or the experience was a brief or fleeting one, we are different because of it. We will feel compelled to pursue it, we could be said to have become apostles or disciples of that truth, ideal, or mission….
Outside of psychology or religion, I can think of some of the great scientists and inventors who felt compelled to work feverishly to discover or complete something;
I can think of artists, composers, and writers who, following their demanding muse, worked all night or exhaustively for days, even weeks at a time. …
If, in this case, If you were like Matthius, how would you respond to being chosen for some great work? Would you protest and declare, Oh, no! You got the wrong guy here, no, not me! I want to take a spiritual mulligan, I want a do over!
Or would you be quietly grateful for this unique and wonderful opportunity to put your faith to its truest, most demanding test- to begin to teach passionately and preach persistently about those transformative experiences, telling any who wish to hear it, what your highest sense of good, your highest sense of truth is, spreading that word out to the far corners of civilization!
To follow a call to disciplehood, in its larger most inclusive sense is to be willing to transform who you are into who you will become…. Most often, this will require a life change; either a new direction, a new relationship, a new career… But even more personally, the willingness to follow your calling, or your compelling sense of discipleship, can and will often require a deeper commitment to yourself, and it will take your renewed courage to brave those feelings of being lost, broken, abandoned, and yet still be willing, open and expectant.
Two quotes from sources that have been meaningful and trustworthy for me during my vocational questions and personal crises are these:
As the author of the personal journey book, Broken Open, and workshop leader Elizabeth Lesser puts it: “If we don’t listen to the voice of our souls, it sings a strange tune. If we don’t go out and look for what lies beneath the surface of our lives, then the soul comes looking for us…. And further in the book, she describes her watershed year in these words. “Now I know what Dante meant when you come to a place in your life where you feel lost, and it is there and then that the real journey of life begins.
Within a year, my husband left, my children went off to college, my father died, and I lost my job. I felt I had nothing left to lose. Now, looking back, I call that “my ashes to wings” experience. It was as if I were born a second time.”
Then, in the book, She goes on to recap the philosopher of religion, William James’s idea of what it means to be twice born, and she ends with this: As Hazarat Inyat Khan, the great Western Sufi teacher put it,” Out of the shell of the broken heart, arises a newborn soul.”
And the second quotes comes to us from his excellent book about finding yourself and your direction in life, Gregg Lavoy in his book, Callings, makes this observation about a modern sense of discipleship:
[“Our calling, our true vocations, might be a call to do something- become self-employed, start a new business, go back to school, start or leave a relationship, move across the country, be a parent… Or the call might ask us to be something; to be more creative, less judgmental, to be more loving, less fearful- thereby adding new meaning to our lives. The call might be to move toward or to move away from something or someone; It will, almost always compel us to review our lives, and then move in a new direction; even to work to change something that has been chronic or long-standing.
Whether you receive the call to discipleship from your soul, your imagination, from your gut, from your breaking heart, or from the enlivening of your mind, it is, as Khalil Gibran puts it, life longing for itself.]”
Now the multifaceted understanding of what constitutes a call is a much larger topic than I can cover today, I would prefer to state it this way: Whether you choose to follow an established religious path- and by that I mean from atheism to mysticism, or any combination or version of the great world faiths, or as many U-Us could choose, to create a path of their own devising, it will take perseverance, integrity, and a lifelong attitude of risk, exploration, and experience to gain from whatever path you choose to travel. At the last analysis, it comes down to this: your maturity as a soul, or as a full person, will assist you to recognize your own true calling, your pathways to wholeness, integrity, greater use, or greater purpose.
First, and maybe foremost, you have to be willing to listen carefully, sensitively, openly for your calling, then realize that it is up to you to chose the path of your life-
To comprehend more fully the result of your previous choices, and consequences… Then you will earn and confirm your self knowledge, and let this next significant choice act as your teacher and your master, so that you are your own best disciple of your life.
Unlike Matthius however, I believe that you will not be forgotten by history, and I trust that you will be well known, and well remembered as someone who was willing to follow your own dreams, strive for your ideals, live up to your principles, and reach for those cherished goals that will define the greatest purpose of your life.
Lastly, remember, we start this quest at any age… And at any age, the time is right…
So Be It!
The psychologist Ira Progoff, known best as the creator of the Intensive Journal Experience, once said that each of our lives is like a well; and we’re meant to go down deeply enough into our own wells so that we finally reach the stream that is the source of all wells. There, theologian Fredrick Buechner say, in that place where ” our deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet,” we will hear a further call. This call leads us out of into the world to test our bright swords in real combat- to teach love, save lives, change minds, to educate, minister, and to serve one another. Callings Page 13