St. Matthias, Master of The Macedonian Man-Eaters
Julio Gonzalez, M.D., J.D.
It must have been an absolutely harrowing situation for the Apostles. They had just witnessed the literally excruciating death of their Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Torture and corporal punishment was easily used, and although Jewish law prohibited capital punishment, they had all witnessed their fellow Jews run to the Romans to have Jesus killed.
The battle in which the Apostles found themselves was not merely over some new theological view on life. What was also at stake was nothing less than money and power. Thus, the Jewish oligarchy–the Jewish swamp in modern terms–was not about to tolerate the continued existence of some rebellious sect intent on displacing the Jewish holy order.
Then there were the doubts. The post-Gospel sources don't specifically speak of the Apostles' internal turmoils, but human nature dictates that it must have been present. The group had lost its leader. Its raison d'etre. Together, they had fed thousands with a basket full of fish and a few loaves of bread. They had cured disease and resurrected the dead. They had dispersed evil spirits, and even more importantly, they had taught a brand new law, one that centered not on fear, but on love. And now they were being tasked to continue the mission, but this time without the physical presence of their leader who had risen up to heaven right before their eyes.
The Selection of A Replacement for Judas
But the Apostles had a more immediate and tangible problem. They were down to eleven. Judas Iscariot had abandoned them in the most sinful manner possible. He had betrayed Jesus and set in motion the greatest, most unjust murder in the history of humanity, all for 30 pieces of silver. In his shame, Judas committed suicide, and his guts, according to Peter, exploded. So, now there were no longer twelve. They were eleven.
The number twelve was of paramount importance not only for them, but also for what Jesus had set out to accomplish. Yes, there were twelve Jewish tribes, descendants of each of Jacob's sons. But twelve meant even more than that.
One of Jesus's major goals was to demonstrate to the Jews that he was their new King. He was the new spiritual head, not only for them, but for the gentiles as well. Jesus was building a new kingdom with a new temple, and a new covenant.
About a thousand years earlier, one of Israel's great kings, Solomon, had built the Jews' First Temple, and Jesus had just built a new one. Like Jesus, Solomon had ridden into Jerusalem on an ass when about to receive his coronation. And Solomon, who ushered the peak period of accomplishment for the Jews, had twelve officials who provided for the king and oversaw all of Israel. So did Jesus.
But now, they were missing one.
The importance of restoring the twelve hit Peter, who according to Acts, stood up before about one hundred and twenty brothers and sisters and said that a replacement needed to be found. He had to be someone who had followed Jesus from the very beginning, and between them, they chose two: Joseph called Barsabas or Justus, and Matthias. To arrive upon the one, the group prayed and cast lots. And thus, they selected Matthias.
Matthias's selection carries great significance to today's Church. First, the fact that a position was even available demonstrates that merely being chosen does not make one holy, a conclusion we can definitely keep in mind today. However, the failures of its members do not detract in the least from the Church's position as the body of Christ on earth.
The other is the authority for the Apostles in choosing their successors. A controversy arose contesting that the Apostles' lineage ended with the Apostles since Christ did not specifically choose their successors. Yet the Apostles' actions in selecting Matthias debunk that claim. Not only did the Apostles select their successor that day amongst the one hundred and twenty, but the Holy Spirit then authenticated the selection on Pentecost by appearing to all twelve, including Matthias, and empowering them through its tongues of fire.
There is one more interesting side note regarding the episode, and that lies with the casting of lots itself. It is indeed interesting that the Apostles would have cast lots in order to make their final choice. The method takes on an even greater significance when one considers that the casting of lots was a priestly function in Israel at the time. Thus, the Apostle's did not leave the decision to chance, as we might perceive it today, but rather, it was the result of an active interaction between the Holy Spirit itself and the presbyters of the new Church.
The Ministry of St. Matthias
Only in the passage regarding his selection does Matthias's name appear in New Testament. Moreover, the historical details of his ministry have largely been lost. However, there are few points that are known with some certainty. First, after the Assumption, Matthias spent some time in Jerusalem and Judea. He then traveled to Antioch with Peter and Andrew. Indeed, Andrew would play prominently in Matthias's life.
The eastern tradition maintains that the Apostles determined where they would go to minister by casting lots. Matthias ended up going to a land of "man-eaters." Legend has it that Matthias was taken prisoner by these cannibals who had already removed his eyes before Andrew appeared, guided by Jesus, to restore his sight and rescue him.
Even the locations of where St. Matthias actually went are laced with confusion, as many sources report he went to Ethiopia, but the name appears to have been used in reference to the area in Macedonia, also named Colchis, around present day Georgia. Still others speak of the region in Africa. Either is possible, as the word Aethiopia appears in translations of the Old Testament in reference to the African region of Nubia.
After his rescue, it is said that Matthias returned to Judea where he continued preaching. Aranias, the Jewish High Priest at the time who had already ordered the death of James the Lesser, had Matthias arrested and put to death by stoning. After being martyred, Matthias was beheaded, which is why the saint is often depicted holding an ax. Other sources say Matthias was stoned to death in Georgia.
St. Matthias' feast day falls on May 14.
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Dr. Julio Gonzalez is an orthopaedic surgeon and lawyer living in Venice, Florida. He served in the Florida House of Representatives. He is the author of numerous books including The Federalist Pages, The Case for Free Market Healthcare, and Coronalessons. He is available for appearances and book signings, and can be reached through www.thefederalistpages.com.