So they proposed two, Joseph called Barsabbas, and Matthias. Then they prayed . . . and they cast lots for them, and the lot fell on Mattias, and he was added to the eleven apostles. Acts 1:21-26
In the last two newsletters I’ve been talking about the role of chance or randomness in the work of grace, first from the perspective of the new ecological theology, and then from the perspective of Dante’s Divine Comedy.
Today I want to reflect on this idea from a third perspective: the perspective of Matthias, who was chosen after the Ascension to replace Judas, the betrayer, as one of the twelve apostles.
What I love is that the other eleven apostles chose him over Barsabbas by “casting lots.”
He was chosen by a roll of the dice. By the short straw. By “rock, paper, scissors.”
There must have been something good about Matthias to be one of the two proposed for admission in the first place. He must have had a good character at least, and been a person of faith. And he did something crucial on his own accord: he showed up, he was there, he made the effort to be present, and that’s not nothing—and he had accompanied the twelve before that, was with Jesus on the way, and so had earned the right to be considered.
But still, in the end, he was chosen not necessarily because he was better than Barsabbas but almost by chance, by luck—or by the Holy Spirit operating through luck, or by the Holy Spirit operating on the basis of some criteria for selection not visible to the people at the time or to us now.
And that’s the crucial thing.
I think of all the many good things in my life and how few of them have to do with me or my own efforts. I was born in America. I had two parents. I never went hungry. I went to good public schools and could afford to go to college and to graduate school, and then I was lucky enough to get a teaching job in North Carolina, when teaching jobs were hard to find, and then lucky enough to be able to come back to the Northwest and to teach at Oregon State. I worked hard, of course, and I have abilities, but lots of people work hard and have abilities who don’t get to make a living teaching and writing and who aren’t able to live near a forest in Oregon, beautiful Oregon, sixty miles from the beach.
I have my health, so far. I have healthcare. And lots of people don’t–don’t have either–people who are just as capable and deserving as I am.
I don’t mean that life is random and I don’t mean that God doesn’t have plan for me as he has a plan for all of us and I don’t mean that he hasn’t called me to be a deacon, and to become a Catholic in the first place. I don’t mean to dishonor the tremendous gift of that call but in fact to do the opposite, to acknowledge it as a gift, a wonderful gift, not something I feel entitled to but something I feel enormously blessed by.
If my ministry as a deacon depended on my inner virtues, on my personal holiness, I wouldn’t be a deacon. Nobody would.
All I’m suggesting is that we be mindful of how blessed we are. That we watch for the little gifts we are given every day, a look, a glance, a kind word, a laugh, a conversation, an unexpected email, an unexpected encounter. What moves us and matters to us at the end of each day is hardly ever what we planned for or could have planned for. It’s always something given to us from God, who is continually surprising us.
“God is always a surprise,” Pope Francis says. “You never know where and how you will find him. You are not setting the time and place of the encounter with him.”
And when in those encounters we meet someone who is less fortunate than we are, who is down on her luck, or who has just gotten some bad news, or is struggling in whatever way, let’s not even secretly assume that it’s because they deserve it, that they haven’t earned any better, whatever their mistakes and their failings. We all make mistakes and we all have failings. Let’s instead continually call to mind the astonishing generosity of God, the astonishing and ever flowing grace of God, the loving and tender work of Christ, who is always present in our lives, who is always calling us, to our own task, our own ministry, our own mission.