“Lord, you know everyone’s heart. Show us which of these two you have chosen… Then they cast lots, and the lot fell to Matthias; so he was added to the eleven apostles.” From Acts 1:15-17,21-26, NIV.
Today is the Sunday after Ascension Day when Jesus left his disciples, having told them to go to Jerusalem and wait for the gift of the Holy Spirit. They do this and Acts 1 tells us that women and Jesus’ family are also included in the group of those who gather to pray, now about a hundred and twenty of them. That number of men was required before a synagogue could have its own council and, with suggestions that Jesus may have appeared to five hundred people at the same time (1 Cor. 15:6), this inclusive group seems to be part of a growing number of believers beginning to form a legitimate and different community within traditional worshippers. Growth and change is already happening and Peter suggests that, following the suicide of Judas, another apostle should be elected in his place.
The symbolic link with the twelve tribes of Israel was important within Judaism and the replacement is sought from within those who have been present since the start of Jesus’ ministry and have witnessed all that has happened. There is a choice between two, Judas Barsabbas or Matthias, and lots are cast after prayer asking for guidance -the traditional way of making a difficult choice. It’s interesting that, this being before the coming of the Holy Spirit and Matthias being chosen, he is added to the group of apostles but nothing more is heard of him. However, the convert Paul later emerges from outside the original group as a key leader in all that then begins to unfold and it’s clear that the Holy Spirit is active in a new way of being which contrasts with former practices and is for Gentiles as well as Jews. A different form of worship and belief is evolving and, later in Acts, the change is clear – lots are not cast and leaders are now chosen for being “full of the Spirit and wisdom” as well as “full of faith” (Acts 6:3,5).
Much has been expected of those who are in leadership today at this time of such profound change during the pandemic and, understandably, wisdom or faith has not always been the hallmark of those in authority or their critics, given that this crisis has not been faced before. In the light of the Indian variant beginning to spread so quickly just as restrictions are being eased, it’s also been hard for some folk to wait without knowing what will happen or when, before the necessary data is available and when what is hoped for could be snatched away. We are having to live with inevitable uncertainty and it’s hard, but unavoidable as a different way of being emerges for us as for those first disciples.