The Nominating Committee Report

Ian Poulton of Leinster Ireland, beginning with Acts 1:21 where it says: “It is necessary to choose one of the men who have been with us the whole time ” quotes George Bernard Shaw: “Reasonable people adapt themselves to the world. Unreasonable people attempt to adapt the world to themselves. All progress, therefore, depends on unreasonable people.” What an interesting thought: all progress depends on unreasonable people. When you think back through history, when you think of explorers, and inventors and the scientists who made great breakthroughs, they were unreasonable people. Some just wouldn’t conform, some were eccentric, some were regarded as being quite mad. Had they been reasonable, they would have accepted the world as it was, they wouldn’t have questioned what was seen as being the way things were by everyone else.


 

The Nominating Committee Report:

Acts 1: 15-26
Our story for today is in Acts and it is of the decision of earliest leaders of the nascent church to fill the place vacated by Judas Iscariot in the circle of the twelve. They gently and compassionately describe his leaving as his having become the guide for those who arrested Jesus. The single qualification set for his replacement is that it should be one of those who accompanied the disciples during Jesus ministry beginning when John was baptizing until the ascension, truly a witness to Jesus’ ministry and resurrection. This event occurs between the Jesus’ ascension and when Luke, in his narrative, acknowledges the coming of the Holy Spirit upon the body.   We know that Jesus had more disciples than just those listed as the inner circle of twelve if from no other incident than his sending pairs of followers out to do ministry. We don’t know how the determination was made to limit the selection. But we know that the nominating process finally included just two who met the criteria, Mathias and Justus Barsabbas.

Some find it particularly important to note that the decision of who would replace Judas wasn’t left up to the eleven—no self perpetuating board here. Peter included the whole body in the determination, a crowd, Luke tells us, of about 120 people. Unlike the other members of the inner circle, the person chosen will be the first not personally chosen by Jesus. And, following Luke’s chronology, this will be the only one placed in a position of leadership before the Holy Spirit descended on the body at Pentecost. If you remember Luke concludes his Gospel with the instruction that they were to stay in the city until they would be armed with the power from above. Again, according to Luke, they stayed in the city – but they didn’t wait for the promised gift of the Holy Spirit. There is no record of the early church ever making a decision this way again.

 

Acts 1:15-26

15In those days Peter stood up among the believers (together the crowd numbered about one hundred twenty persons) and said, 16“Friends, the scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit through David foretold concerning Judas, who became a guide for those who arrested Jesus— 17for he was numbered among us and was allotted his share in this ministry.” 18(Now this man acquired a field with the reward of his wickedness; and falling headlong, he burst open in the middle and all his bowels gushed out. 19This became known to all the residents of Jerusalem, so that the field was called in their language Hakeldama, that is, Field of Blood.) 20“For it is written in the book of Psalms, ‘Let his homestead become desolate, and let there be no one to live in it’; and ‘Let another take his position of overseer.’ 21So one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, 22beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us—one of these must become a witness with us to his resurrection.” 23So they proposed two, Joseph called Barsabbas, who was also known as Justus, and Matthias. 24Then they prayed and said, “Lord, you know everyone’s heart. Show us which one of these two you have chosen 25to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place.” 26And they cast lots for them, and the lot fell on Matthias; and he was added to the eleven apostles.

Ian Poulton of Leinster Ireland, beginning with Acts 1:21 where it says: “It is necessary to choose one of the men who have been with us the whole time ” quotes George Bernard Shaw: “Reasonable people adapt themselves to the world. Unreasonable people attempt to adapt the world to themselves. All progress, therefore, depends on unreasonable people.” What an interesting thought: all progress depends on unreasonable people. When you think back through history, when you think of explorers, and inventors and the scientists who made great breakthroughs, they were unreasonable people. Some just wouldn’t conform, some were eccentric, some were regarded as being quite mad. Had they been reasonable, they would have accepted the world as it was, they wouldn’t have questioned what was seen as being the way things were by everyone else.

You have to be unreasonable if you’re going to make progress, because progress demands disagreeing with what everyone else thinks, it means disturbing people, it means annoying people. It means not assuming the majority is always correct. Being unreasonable means asking questions about what everyone else takes for granted; it means being prepared to say what no-one else has dared so far to say; it means being prepared to go where no-one else has been prepared to go.

Being unreasonable is at the heart of the history of our faith tradition. Being a follower of Christ is fundamentally unreasonable because what we say we believe simply does not fit in with the way our world understands things. Evidently both Justus and Matthias were unreasonable men. There are two candidates for the job, Joseph called Barsabbas (also known as Justus) and Matthias.

Can you imagine the comments and the criticisms both of them would have gotten over the previous three years? What would Matthias’ friends have said to him? What are you mixing with those people for? Sure they don’t even count you as one of their number. Do you think Justus wasn’t asked “Why are you always hanging around on the edge of things? Be reasonable Matthias, go home, back to your house and your family and your work, do that religious stuff in your spare time. Matthias is unreasonable, he becomes the most unreasonable of the Twelve because he had never been given any hope that he would be anything other than an unknown person on the fringe of things. The original twelve included people like James and John, who argued about where they would sit in Heaven. If they had such petty squabbles among themselves, we can be sure that Matthias would also have been subject to comments, criticisms and snide remarks. Even after his election there must have been moments when he got comments from the others like. ‘What are you doing here, Matthias? You’re not part of our group. You weren’t invited. Why do you keep following us?’

If Matthias had shown proper sense and caution, he would have stayed at home and got on with sensible things and worried about getting that job on the house done that he had promised his wife he would do last year; and whether that young man down the street was a suitable match for his daughter; and telling the rabbi that synagogue had gotten very long on the Sabbath. Those would be reasonable things; being sensible means doing reasonable things, doesn’t it? It is by being unreasonable that Matthias shows that he is faithful to Jesus; it is by being unreasonable that Matthias shows he is worthy of his place amongst the twelve; it is by being unreasonable that Matthias is part of a group that progresses from being a group of wandering Jewish men to a worldwide movement.

It’s because he was unreasonable that we remember Matthias today, it’s because he and the rest of the twelve went around telling an astonishing story that we have a Church today. Being reasonable, most of them would have spent their advancing years catching fish in the Sea of Galilee; thank God they were unreasonable, or we would never have heard about Jesus. We are a very reasonable church. Perhaps the time has come for us to be a little less reasonable.

It is time for us to be unreasonable and for each of us to ask serious questions about what is needed to continue telling the Good News for generations to come. No-one is going to do that for us. Peter looked for an unreasonable man to replace Judas, “one of the men who have been with us the whole time the Lord Jesus went in and out among us…”. Following in the tradition of Matthias, we are called to be an unreasonable people.

We know nothing about Matthias after his election to such high office. His name doesn’t show up in the synoptic Gospels. With the exception of this mention in Acts, his name isn’t mentioned in the canonical New Testament. Ever heard of the Peter Principle? The theory is that in an organization where promotion is based on achievement, success, and merit, it’s members are promoted so long as they work competently and eventually they will be promoted beyond their level of ability, that is they will rise to their level of incompetence. The corollary to that is that the work has to be done by those who have not yet reached their level of incompetence.

Laurence Peter’s idea wasn’t new. As early as 1767 Lessing in one of his comedies has an officer saying: “To become more than a sergeant? I don’t consider it. I am a good sergeant; I might easily make a bad captain, and certainly an even worse general. People have had this experience.”

Legend has it that Matthias preached the Gospel to barbarians and cannibals in the interior of Ethiopia and died at Sebastopolis. Another tradition holds that he was stoned at Jerusalem and then beheaded.

So, what happened to Justus Barsabbas? Acts 15 tells us of his brother, Judas Barsabbas being sent to the people of Antioch with the decision of the first General Assembly but there is nothing more of Justus. Like Mathias, Justus Barsabbas had also been one to follow Jesus from the Baptism of John until the Ascension. He was held in such high esteem that only one other, Matthias, was considered as qualified to hold a chair among the Apostles. We know his dedication to Jesus matches that of Maththias’. Yet, before the whole assembly it is declared that the Lord had looked into his heart and found it wanting. Put yourself into those shoes? What would that feel like? Elation to be on the short list. Devastation to feel the ultimate rejection. It would be good to know how Justus handled it. Was there yet ministry open to him? Was he open to continued service to the community of faith or did he pick up his toys and go home?

What do you think. Did justice occur when the vote went to Matthias instead of to Justus? Did neither of them ever truly get into the inner circle. Was Matthias always the proverbial tag along? I guess I’d like to think that being added to the Apostles Matthias changed the dynamics in ways that allowed the church to move creatively forward. Did Justus Barsabbas hang in there, continuing to be a valued member of the community of faith? I’d like to think so. I can imagine that his continued commitment to the community of faith after his rejection would be a powerful lesson for the community in humility and graciousness.

 

 

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