He Saw With His Own EyesFr. Barnabas Powell
Ask any police officer or investigator and they will tell you having an eyewitness to an event is great, and not so great. The reason is eyewitnesses are notorious for filtering what they see through what they think they remember. So, we were trained on how to weed out what they thought they saw from what they actually saw. It can make all the difference in the world. In fact, there are several protocols that have to be met before an “eyewitness” testimony can be helpful. And don’t think for one minute a defense attorney won’t exploit every opportunity to call into question the veracity of an eyewitness. It isn’t as cut and dried as it may seem.
The Early Church was faced with a challenge after the Death and Resurrection of Jesus. One of the Lord’s Apostles betrayed Him and killed himself. Judas was a member of the 12 and now that spot is vacant. Does the Church leave this vacancy? No, the apostles gather together after the Lord’s Ascension into heaven to hold a council on what to do next! And what they do matters to us today because of the value of having 12 official eyewitnesses to the earthly ministry of Jesus Christ. And the reason the 12 were so significant was that the Church insists this is the final expression of the Chosen People. This replacement of Judas as one of the 12 had to be an eyewitness of the Life of Jesus so that the witness of the Faith that is continuous from the Garden of Eden to this very day can be consistent and clear!
Look at our lesson today in Acts 1:12-17, 21-26:
IN THOSE DAYS, the apostles returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a sabbath day’s journey away; and when they had entered, they went up to the upper room, where they were staying, Peter and John and James and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James the son of Alphaios and Simon the Zealot and Judas the son of James. All these with one accord devoted themselves to prayer, together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers.
In those days Peter stood up among the brethren (the company of persons was in all about a hundred and twenty), and said, “Brethren, the scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit spoke beforehand by the mouth of David, concerning Judas who was guide to those who arrested Jesus. For he was numbered among us, and was allotted his share in this ministry. “So one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us-one of these men must become with us a witness to his resurrection.”
And they put forward two, Joseph called Barsabbas, who was surnamed Justos, and Matthias. And they prayed and said, “Lord, who knowest the hearts of all men, show which one of these two thou hast chosen to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside, to go to his own place.” And they cast lots for them, and the lot fell on Matthias; and he was enrolled with the eleven apostles.
So, why not be satisfied with the 11 Apostles? Well, first off the Lord chose 12 disciples for a specific reason. There were 12 tribes of Israel! And the Lord was sending a signal with His choice of 12 disciples that He was remaking the 12 tribes into His kingdom. The Lord was following through on the promises made to Abraham all those centuries ago that Abraham’s offspring would be a blessing to the whole world! 12 wasn’t necessarily a “magic” number as much as it was a signal that there is meant to be both continuity with the past AND a transformation of the present!
But also notice the criteria the Apostles used to choose Judas’ replacement. First, the man who replaces Judas as one of the 12 had to have been one who has accompanied the disciples since the beginning when St. John baptized the Lord in the Jordan. Next. the replacement must have also been with them after the Resurrection. And third, they must have also witnessed the Ascension of the Lord. Sounds like the man who would fill these requirements had paid the price of being a follower of Jesus well!
And they chose Matthias to take the place of Judas among the 12. What is so amazing about this is that Matthias was the only Apostle of the Lord not chosen personally by the Lord AND his becoming the 12th Apostle occurred BEFORE the Feast of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit fell on all of them. It seems God uses us, humans, in ways that astound even us! St. Matthias is said to have brought the message of Jesus to tribes of barbarian “meat-eaters” in an area known as Aetheopia, an area near the nation of Georgia. He was martyred for the Faith after being arrested by the same High Priest Ananias that had sentenced St. James to death in Jerusalem. During his trial before the Sanhedrin court St. Matthias used the prophecies from the Hebrew scriptures to prove Jesus was the Messiah and had risen from the dead. The unbelievers were so cut to the heart that they demanded St. Mathias be stoned to death. St. Matthias was martyred in the year 63 AD, just 7 years before the Temple in Jerusalem would be utterly destroyed.
Today, as we celebrate the Feast of St. Matthias, let’s examine our hearts to see if we have become eyewitnesses to the power of Christ to change a person. Is there sufficient evidence to convict you of being a follower of Christ? There will be if you’re living a Normal Orthodox Life!
P.S. Truly, into all the world your sound has gone forth as a brightly-beaming sun; and it enlightens by grace the Church of all nations on the earth, O wonderworking Matthias, Apostle of Christ. Pray for us! Amen.