For May 20, 2012: 7 Easter, Year B

The Reading            Acts 1:15-17, 21-26

Today’s reading from the book of Acts returns to the time right after Jesus ascended to heaven. As the disciples turn their gazes from heaven back to earth, Peter reminds them of a bit of unfinished business: the defection of Judas leaves eleven apostles, but the prophecies specify twelve apostles, one for each of the tribes of Israel.

 

The Epistle            1 John 5:9-13

The last few weeks’ readings from the first letter of John laid out evidence for Jesus as both God and human. The concluding verses underline the point: God gave us eternal life through the death of the human and divine Son of God.

 

Further thoughts

The word apostle comes ultimately from the Greek verb apostellein ‘to send out’. The original twelve apostles—Peter, James and John the sons of Zebedee, Andrew, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, Simon the Zealot, and Judas Iscariot—were the ones that Jesus chose to send out to preach and heal in his name. The name itself might be a linguistic innovation of the early Christian community, according to the Illustrated Dictionary and Concordance of the Bible, but the concept wasn’t new: from the Hebrew root shlch that means ‘send’ comes shlicha ‘emissary’, and in the ancient world, when it was impractical to wait for instructions from a far-off capital, the emissary of the ruler spoke as the king’s voice and wielded the ruler’s power. In effect, the emissary was the ruler.

When the ruler in question is the King of glory, the responsibility is so much the greater. The twelve were those in Jesus’ inner circle who were chosen to be his hands and feet and voice. Jesus’ long prayer in today’s gospel, on the night on which he was arrested, is in effect their commission to go be Jesus to the world. At the time, the twelve perceived this only dimly if at all. By the beginning of the book of Acts, however, they understood much more. It was therefore extremely important to the remaining apostles to replace Judas and to get the choice exactly right. Identifying suitable candidates and then choosing among them by lot allowed for both judgment and the action of the Holy Spirit.

Oddly, however, the choosing of Matthias is the last we hear of him in the Bible. We hear much more of Silas, Timothy, Barnabas, and of course Paul: the apostles who took the Word to the gentile world. We human beings can set criteria as much as we like, but the Holy Spirit tends to have other plans.

And, as Jesus promised and the letter of John suggests, the Holy Spirit’s plans for people to be Jesus—to be light and to bring God’s love to a tired, disheartened world—depend, day by day and minute by minute and heart by heart—on each and every one of us.

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