12 Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a sabbath day’s journey away. 13When they had entered the city, they went to the room upstairs where they were staying, Peter, and John, and James, and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James son of Alphaeus, and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James. 14All these were constantly devoting themselves to prayer, together with certain women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, as well as his brothers.
15 In those days Peter stood up among the believers (together the crowd numbered about one hundred and twenty people) 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— 17for he was numbered among us and was allotted his share in this ministry.’ 18(Now this man acquired a field with the reward of his wickedness; and falling headlong, he burst open in the middle and all his bowels gushed out. 19This became known to all the residents of Jerusalem, so that the field was called in their language Hakeldama, that is, Field of Blood.) 20‘For it is written in the book of Psalms, “Let his homestead become desolate, and let there be no one to live in it”; and “Let another take his position of overseer.” 21So one of the men who have accompanied us throughout the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, 22beginning 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.’ 23So they proposed two, Joseph called Barsabbas, who was also known as Justus, and Matthias. 24Then they prayed and said, ‘Lord, you know everyone’s heart. Show us which one of these two you have chosen 25to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place.’ 26And they cast lots for them, and the lot fell on Matthias; and he was added to the eleven apostles.
Reflection by Rev. Richard Jorgensen
Sometimes the best thing we can do in response to God, is wait prayerfully. In the first half of this chapter, before Jesus ascended into heaven, Jesus told his disciples that they would be filled with power when the Holy Spirit came upon them. And only then would they be sent out as his witnesses. In other words, they were called by Jesus; however, they were not yet ready to fulfill that purpose. So, they return to Jerusalem and gather in a room upstairs (the proverbial Upper Room). It is not just the Apostles who gather together in prayer, the whole community of believers — men, and women.
It is far more important than we realize that the disciples do not simply “go out and do something,” in response to all that God has done. Instead, they take the more challenging path, they wait upon the Lord and they watch and listen for God’s guidance in their midst. Even though Jesus had risen from the dead, I sometimes imagine that this must have been a challenging time for the early church. They were called to a tremendous task, to serve as witnesses to Jesus’ resurrection beginning in Jerusalem and going out to the ends of the earth, and they were promised to be filled be with power from on high. However, up until this point, the disciples had not yet shown that they can fulfill this mission, and left to their own devices, they could not. At the same time, they really did not know what it would look like to be filled with power from the Holy Spirit, nor did they know how long they would need to wait.
So, they accepted a stance of being a discerning community – a community willing to wait upon the Lord and seek God’s guidance before moving forward. Sometimes in the church today, we tend to confuse discernment with decision making. They are not the same thing. The Latin root for the word “decide” literally means “to cut off” and when deciding, we are cutting off our choices, and choosing only one. Discernment may lead to a decision; however, at its root is listening for God. As Henri Nouwen writes, “To discern means first of all to listen to God, to pay attention to God’s active presence, and to obey God’s prompting, direction, leadings, and guidance” (Henri Nouwen, Discernment, page 4).
So, we see the church as a listening community, and it is only out of their listening for God that they will act in the future. As Richard Rohr often suggests, the same should be true today. We ought to be both contemplative and active in the world. And always our contemplation should shape our actions, just as our actions inform our contemplation.
“May the Circle Be Unbroken”
Amidst their waiting, to prepare for the mission ahead, the gathered community still has one more critical task – they need to find a replacement for Judas, who betrayed Jesus and subsequently died a sudden and tragic death. Peter stands up among the believers and interprets the events surrounding Judas’ betrayal and death through the lens of both Psalm 69 and Psalm 22 (the same two psalms are also used in the Gospels to interpret the passion and death of Jesus).
Peter proposes that they select a man who had been with Jesus from the time of his baptism until his ascension, who would not join with the other eleven Apostles in their witness to the resurrection. It is noteworthy that both Luke and Acts suggest that there were other disciples of Jesus beyond the Twelve. He also names three women in that circle of followers who were present with Jesus throughout his journeys. It is perhaps a bit disappointing that Peter says that they must select a man, rather than select a person; however, it is perhaps worth noting that the disciples in Acts were often not as eager to accept female leadership as Jesus had been in the Gospel of Luke.
It is noteworthy that there are only two qualifications to be considered to be Judas’ replacement among the Twelve: The person needed to be an eyewitness (one who sees) to Jesus’ ministry from the beginning, and they needed to be willing to become a witness (one who speaks) of Jesus’ resurrection to the world. There is no mention of personal holiness or wisdom, or even having a good reputation among the disciples. And the disciples lift up two names, “Joseph called Barsabbas, who was also known as Justus, and Matthias.” To see whom God has chosen, they then cast lots. While Joseph might have the distinction of having three names, and is also named first among the two, it is Matthias who is chosen by God. It is Matthias who is chosen and then never mentioned in Scripture by name again. Even if he is not mentioned, we might take comfort that just as he had been faithful in the background of Jesus’ ministry from the beginning, he no doubt remained faithful to the end. He is remembered in church tradition as the one who brought the faith to Cappadocia and later died a martyr’s death by beheading.
Holy Spirit, bless us to pause, listen and wait for you to breathe among us anew. Guide us, empower us and kindle within us a light and fire so that we may be your witnesses in this time and this place, always to your glory. Amen.
Spiritual Practice Invitation: Preparing for the Holy Spirit Reflection offered by Deacon Marsha Roscoe
While the disciples waiting prayerfully and prepare their circle of leadership to move forward, they ultimately cannot move forward by their own power. In their waiting, the Holy Spirit does come and uses them to proclaim the Gospel. Not on their timetable, in God’s timing.
We are invited, like the disciples, to wait prayerfully and patiently for the Holy Spirit to guide us and fill us with God’s power to bear witness in all that is to come. In this strange season in which many of us are challenged to watch and wait for what is coming next, we invite you to notice your discernment habits. Discerning is a spiritual gift each one of us has been given. Discernment practices such as prayer, waiting, listening, and noticing how God is already at work in our individual lives and in the world lead us to respond with increasingly more generosity and gratitude.
Undoubtedly, our lives and ministries are changing. As we seek to discern God’s will for our lives, we may never be truly ready for all that God calls us to be and to do. Like the disciples, God’s leading will come, and once again, we will be sent out to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ with a new power.
The Soul of Discernment: A Spiritual Practice for Communities and Institutions by Elizabeth Liebert provides concrete steps for groups of people who work together to seek God’s call in a particular situation.