Saturday, May 27, 2017

The Thirteenth Apostle

Everybody knows of Judas Iscariot.  Few know of Matthias.  There is only one mention of his selection to be the thirteenth apostle and that is found in the Acts of the Apostles (1:22-26). We know nothing else about him for history has consigned him to anonymity and obscurity.  Judas gets all the attention and Matthias gets none at all.  Why?

Why are Matthias’ ignored and Judas” given all the attention?  Or, as the scripture puts it, “Why do the wicked prosper?”  Why do some people receive fame and others get ignored?  Why do some succeed and others fail?  The question “why” takes many forms and echoes throughout history.  Jeremiah says, “Lord…I question you about matters of justice.  Why are the wicked so prosperous?” (Jer. 12:1).  Why do some get recognition and others do not?  

Two candidates were nominated to be the thirteenth apostle, “they proposed two men”…Joseph called Barsabbas”  and Matthias.  The eleven apostles resorted to “dumb luck” to determine which person God desired.  They rolled dice, that is, they wrote the names of the candidates on stones; the stones were placed into a jar and the jar was shaken until one stone fell out; and he whose name was on the first stone to fall out would become the chosen one.  Is this the way of life—just a roll of the dice?  Is it all summed up by just dumb luck?  

A few years ago, I walked through a cemetery in England where thousands of American soldiers are buried.  Some  of the crosses marking the graves had names and some did not.  It was a very traumatic experience—reading the names, noting the ages of those men who gave their all—especially when I read my own name on one of the crosses:  “Harold Owens, 1919-1943.”  Why are some soldiers unknown and others known?  Why does Patton, Eisenhower and McArthur  receive fame, while thousands upon thousands who gave their lives remain unknown and unrecognized?

John Milton was born in 1608 and died at the age of 66.  He was perhaps the greatest poet of the English language. Milton was struck blind at the age of forty-four.  In his poem, When I Consider How My Light is Spent, Milton ponders why God would gift him with remarkable talents, only to take them back.  “Doth God exact day-labor, light denied?”  Plunged into a world of darkness, Milton wondered about the injustices of life.  In the last line of his poem he wrote:  “They also serve who only stand and wait.”  Those crosses in England echo Milton’s words.  Those soldiers were on the front line, standing, waiting, serving, and in the end, gave their lives.  History  has consigned them to anonymity and obscurity. Tom Brokaw’s attempt to give them recognition as a part of “the greatest generation” is commendable, but not sufficient.  Memorial Day is a good time to utter Milton’s words:  “They also serve who only stand and wait.”

Life is fragile.

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