Summary: As in the story of Judas, there are dark passages in the Bible, but they can help us if we use an interpretation which enables their meaning to emerge in the light of the mystery of Christ.
Feast of St. Matthias
14 May 2012
Today’s feast gives us an opportunity to reflect on one of the darkest moments in our salvation history. The crucifixion of Jesus was set up by a traitor, Judas “the Iscariot.” It also helps us to consider what the Holy Father and Synod wanted to communicate in Verbum Domini, the apostolic exhortation we have been reading over the past few months.
To review the sad story, Judas was probably the most complex and downbeat of the Twelve. His surname, Iscariot, suggests either that he was from a particular town, or that he may have been associated with the sicarii, the assassins who resisted the Roman occupation. That he was called a “thief” in the Synoptics backs up that idea, because the resistance was financed by stealing from the Romans and collaborators. At any rate, Jesus was an equal opportunity Messiah. He called IRS collection agents and prostitutes along with the common laborers and junior priests and fisherman-entrepreneurs. So Simon and Judas, who were probably called “terrorists” by the occupying authority, were also welcome, as long as they repented of their sin and learned to follow the Law of Christ, the law of love.
Of course, Judas was the tragic character of the Twelve, because he never learned that lesson. He literally sold out His master, and, messing up to the end, turned his repentance into the final act of despair. The story of his suicide is one of what the Holy Father calls “dark passages” of the Bible, tales of violence and immorality. Pope Benedict reminds us that “first and foremost” “biblical revelation is deeply rooted in history. God’s plan is manifested progressively and it is accomplished slowly, in successive stages and despite human resistance.” Stories like this, in which an evil act is related “without explicit” denunciation of its immorality, need to be explained. These pericopes “cause the modern reader to be taken aback, especially if he or she fails to take account of the many ‘dark’ deeds carried out down the centuries, and also in our own day.” These historical accounts must be paired off with the denunciations of violence and immorality found in the writings of the prophets, and in the letters of the apostles, particularly Paul. We don’t know how the early Church used them in Liturgy. Probably, because we have the testimony of the Didache, every time there was a reading there was also an interpretation by a leader of the community. The Holy Father goes on to tell us “to help all the faithful to approach these passages through an interpretation which enables their meaning to emerge in the light of the mystery of Christ.” The final arbiter of what is right and what is wrong is Jesus Christ, and the Law by which we will be judged is the Law of Christ.
One thing we can learn from this passage in Acts is that God is a master fixer. From the tragedy of Judas he put together the divine comedy that featured Matthias. This story tells us that in the days after the Ascension, when the disciples were gathered with their guiding star, the Mother of Jesus, to organize the little community called “the Way,” the Holy Spirit inspired them to replace Judas through prayer. When no clear winner stood out, they threw the dice. This was an act of trust–both these men were acceptable, but only one could be chosen. They made the decision in one of the ways customary for Jews–by casting lots. Not much is known about Matthias after this event, but we do know that by the end of the first century, the Church had been spread beyond this little band of a few dozen to all four corners of the Roman Empire, and today fills the earth, from the rising of the sun to its setting.