Summary: For Ascension Sunday: Whether we work diligently when our supervisor is out of sight is a measure of commitment and character. Compare Matthias, who took a job he did not ask for; and Joseph Justus, who was passed over.
When you see your supervisor, you work. When you do not see your supervisor, you may work, but your work style is likely to slow down. The difference between those two things is the measure of your character and your commitment.
When you see your supervisor, you work diligently. You know that if you do not do your work well, you will be reprimanded. When your supervisor is looking over your shoulder, your work style is focused. But let that supervisor go out of sight, and things change. Once you know the boss is not watching, you relax, you back off. The difference is the measure of your character and your commitment.
When I was a boy it was my job to mow the lawn. We lived in a corner house, with a good-sized yard. I did all right with pushing the mower, but when it came to hand-clipping what seemed like a mile of sidewalk, I shut down. Since there were no Weedwhackers in 1950, it all had to be done with hand-powered shears. Not a pleasant experience.
But my father expected it, and I knew that when it was finished there would be a nice reward in the form of a fifty-cent coin. To today’s generation, fifty cents for mowing a whole lawn doesn’t sound like anything. In the 1950’s, however, it wasn’t bad, and there was something about the heft of the old fifty-cent coin that made it seem like a great reward. Knowing that I would get that half dollar and that my father expected this job to be done was enough to get me started. But not necessarily enough to make me finish – not enough to keep me scooting along the sidewalks and working those shears to trim that crabgrass. I delayed, I dallied, I dragged. I stopped to talk with my best friend across the street. I stopped to laugh at my friend next door, who could do a Donald Duck impression that would send you into gales of laughter. I stopped to tie a clover chain. I lingered under the magnolia tree to enjoy the shade. Anything I could find to do to keep from all that trimming, I did. My father was out of sight, and the fifty-cent reward was not enough to keep me working.
But I had a particular problem. My father was a postal carrier, and he had been assigned to carry the very same street on which we lived. And so, suddenly I would see him come around the corner, a short block away, up and down the steps, delivering that mail. I knew that in a hot minute he would be down to our house and would have something to say about my lawn-mowing. When I saw my father come around that corner, I dropped my dalliances and discarded my delays! The shears clattered with the crunch of crabgrass.
It made a difference whether my supervisor was out of sight. When I could see him, I worked hard. When I couldn’t, I was lazy. The difference was the measure of my character and my commitment.
At His ascension, Jesus gave a command and then rose out of sight. How would the disciples do at fulfilling His command when they could not see Him? “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” That’s a huge assignment. The ends of the earth! It puts to shame a hundred yards of sidewalk trimming. How will they deal with this, how diligent will they be, when Jesus is out of sight?
Two men are mentioned in the first chapter of Acts and are never mentioned again. We know almost nothing about them. And yet we can draw some inferences that will teach us what it is to be diligent and faithful even when Jesus is out of sight. The two men are Matthias and Joseph Barsabbas, also called Justus. Matthias who was chosen to be the replacement apostle and Joseph, who was not.
Just a reminder of the background here. Jesus chose twelve people to be His disciples. The number twelve was not an accident. Clearly He chose that number to represent the twelve tribes of ancient Israel, to demonstrate that God was reconstituting the chosen people as the church. There needed to be twelve apostles.
But now the band of twelve was one short. Judas Iscariot had betrayed Jesus and had killed himself. A replacement was needed. And so, according to the story, two men, Matthias and Joseph, were proposed; the group prayed and asked the Lord to show them which He would have as the replacement apostle. Then they cast lots – something like drawing straws – and believed that God had in that way led them to Matthias. That may not be what you and I would do, but it’s what they did. You would probably be a little uncomfortable if the Pastor Search Committee were to say, “Here is our candidate for Senior Pastor; we drew lots and this name came up.” But I have to say that choosing between Barack and Hillary would be a whole lot less stressful if we did it that way! Anyhow, the lots fell. Matthias became the new apostle, and Joseph didn’t.