15 In 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— 17 for he was numbered among us and was allotted his share in this ministry.”
21 So one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, 22 beginning 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.” 23 So they proposed two, Joseph called Barsabbas, who was also known as Justus, and Matthias. 24 Then they prayed and said, “Lord, you know everyone’s heart. Show us which one of these two you have chosen 25 to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place.” 26 And they cast lots for them, and the lot fell on Matthias; and he was added to the eleven apostles. – Acts 1:15-17,21-26
Our scripture reading for today recounts an interesting and complicated story from the earliest days of the Church. In the days following Jesus’ resurrection and ascension, the 11 remaining apostles come together to make a crucial decision. Judas, who betrayed Jesus and subsequently killed himself, had left a void in the leadership of the early Church that needed to be filled. The desire for exactly 12 apostles came largely from the need to rightly portray the fledgling Christian movement as the true successor to the kingdom of Israel and it’s 12 tribes. To that end, the apostles consider two candidates who followed Jesus throughout his earthly ministry: Justus and Matthias. Their discernment process involves the expected prayer for God to reveal His will but then takes a peculiar turn when the apostles “cast lots” in order to understand God’s answer to their prayers. This sort of “flip of the coin” or “toss of the dice” ends up pointing to Matthias and he becomes the new 12th apostle.
For modern Christians, this method of decision-making definitely makes us uncomfortable. We can’t help but think “Should such an important decision be left to a game of chance?” or even “How would you know for sure that God was guiding the lots?” I know I’d be the first one encouraging them to slow down and wait to see how the Spirit might reveal the right candidate. To make things more complicated the text itself doesn’t comment either way on the appropriateness of the apostles’ method. It is interesting to note, though, that Matthias’ name does not appear again in the New Testament. What we do know is, for better or worse, this decision did not hinder the gospel from continuing to spread and the Church from continuing to grow. Today, we can rest in knowing that, in the complexity and ambiguity of our own actions sometimes, God is still on His throne and the Kingdom of Heaven will continue to break-in to our world!