For the Feast of Saint Matthias on May 14 our readings at the Offices touch on the need to replace failed leadership. Matthias was chosen by lot to complete the number of the Twelve after Judas’ betrayal and suicide. The scripture which describes the selection of Matthias, following Jesus’ Ascension at the beginning of the book of Acts, is read at today’s Eucharist. At Morning Prayer, a passage from the first book of Samuel describes the point in Saul’s reign that the young David was anointed as King of Israel.
Underneath these passages we feel the reverberation of the Magnificat. “He has put down the mighty from their seat and lifted up the humble and meek.” We know so very little about Matthias. David when he was chosen was the least of his brothers and hadn’t even been invited to the feast.
How is this dynamic reflected in my world—the tiny world of what one writer called the “Great Isolation” where, honestly, it can be hard to perform the activities of daily living, or the wider one where my attention gets stuck staring spellbound (or frothing judgmentally) at political leaders caught in the throes of enormous events? Have I/we got a strategy to manage my /our resources? A backup leadership plan?
Well, seeking overarching control doesn’t end well, does it? Yet the people are not left to founder. Leadership is needed, and is provided. Are there applicable lessons here?
First, God knows when and how to provide new management. In 1 Samuel 16:1-13, the Lord tells Samuel, against his sense of the possible (verse:2), to go anoint a new king. And in Acts 1: 21-26 (the reading at the noon Eucharist) after Peter proposes choosing someone to fill Judas’ place, the assembly proposes two candidates, prays asking God to “show us which one of these two you have chosen,” and casts “lots for them, and the lot fell on Matthias.”
Second, If I’m/we’re managing this process, I/we need to listen to the true need and not seek any reward. The lections at Evening Prayer address this straight up. Samuel (I Sam 12:1-5) tells the people “I have listened to you in all that you have said to me” and the people affirm “you have not defrauded us or oppressed us or taken anything from the hand of anyone.” Similarly, Paul (Acts 20:17-35) in his farewell address to the elders at Ephesus, says “I did not shrink from doing anything helpful” and “I coveted no one’s silver or gold or clothing.”
The applications to public life are obvious, aren’t they?
At home, however, self-seeking is more subtle. Without some kind of awareness practice or prayer practice, it’s all too easy to create one’s own agenda which completely replaces listening to God. I remind myself, as well as my readers, that the writers of the Hebrew Bible called out idolatry in generation after generation. We deceive ourselves if we think it’s not a danger today—the worship of something inert and unchanging, instead of a relationship with the God who is alive and gives life. Accompanying this distorted set-up come attempts to gratify the ego’s need for praise, accomplishment, success, fame, adulation etc. All these can be addictive, and are always ultimately transient. See also John 6:27 “Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life…”
The image of the anointing of David is from a 10th century French psalter, is in the public domain. Source: Paris psaulter (BnF MS Grec 139), folio 3v L’onction de David