St Matthias wins the lottery


“Then they prayed, ‘You, Lord, who know the hearts of all,
show which one of these two you have chosen
to take the place in this apostolic ministry
from which Judas turned away to go to his own place.’
Then they gave lots to them, and the lot fell upon Matthias,
and he was counted with the Eleven Apostles.” (Acts 1:23-26)

St Matthias is the apostle who was chosen to replace Judas among the twelve. Matthias is not one of the better known apostles: he is essentially famous for winning the lottery. And what a lottery to win: Matthias takes the place of Judas, to begin, and then later sent away from Jerusalem to preach to other lands. According to some later authors, he died as result of being beheaded while others say he was stoned first, and then beheaded. At any rate, it’s not the idea one usually has of “winning the lottery.”

Matthias is the first apostle who hears his vocational call after Jesus’ ascent; in that way, he is the first of all the rest of the apostles, but also all disciples in their various vocations who have to discern differently. While Peter and James put down their nets to follow a Jesus who meets them in flesh, face to face, Matthias hears his call through getting the right “lot.” There is something kind of arbitrary about his call. We don’t see anything of his internal experience, only what happens to him.

Over the years, I’ve heard a lot of stories about the start of people’s vocational lives that lack the glamour that one might associate with the idea of a “call” to a vocation. For example, I can think of an academic friend who chose her line of work because she did not know what else to do, so she went to grad school; she’s a terrific teacher. I know a mother who became pregnant quite unexpectedly and was full of nerves about her ability to parent well, but has turned out to be an extraordinarily warm and loving mother. And none of us fully know what we are choosing in our vocations when we marry, or join a religious order, or decide to move to a new job in a part of the world that we have never lived in before. Along the way there will always be those moments where we think, “I did not choose this part of my job or relationship, or…….(fill in the blank).”

My guess is that a lot more “calls” than one would think start off with some of the arbitrariness of Matthias’ call.  Yet God works through those choices anyway. Good discernment is wonderful, but imperfect discernment is not the end of the world, for God keeps seeking to create and re-create at every moment in time, and not just “at the beginning.” I take some comfort in Matthias and his somewhat prosaic story of having a lot that “fell upon him.” He had an unglamorous call and an unhappy death, but in between, he traveled and preached, and worked and loved. Today we can remember and give thanks for his holy life.

[This post was previously published at my former blog, Stepping Stones]