AN EMPTY OFFICE

Today is the feast day of St. Mathias. If he seems obscure to you, save anytime you’ve seen his name assigned to a Catholic church, it is because he is the apostle chosen to replace Judas after his betrayal of Christ.

Mathias was chosen by lot over a second “candidate”, namely Joseph called Barsabbas, who must also have been a very good man, a very good candidate, if you will, among the 120 disciples who had been called together for this solemn “election.” But there is no suggestion that his was merely a matter of chance, of what we think of as a common lottery. Peter, the leader, prayed, “You, Lord, who know the hearts of all, show which one of these two you have chosen.”

Then, they “gave lots” to the 120 and “he lot fell on Matthias.” I am not exactly sure how the process worked here, but plainly it was a prayerful one and, in some respects, tragic that it should have been necessary — tragic for all mankind for all ages.

Yet, it was foretold “through the mouth of David, concerning Judas…” Here again, I do not know scripture well enough to know of that prophesy, nor am I able to understand easily — or, perhaps, ever in this life — how Judas did by his own free will something that set the Passion of Christ in motion, something Christ said he would have to undergo, knew he would undergo for our sakes, a necessary step, as such, in the salvation of the world — at the same time that we must believe Judas acted freely, the agent of this consummation of the human rebellion and lawlessness against grace that was set in motion by Adam. Suppose Judas had failed to carry out his betrayal? A mystery worthy of exploring, as we search our own hearts in the dark realization that a bit of Judas dwells in us all. Here, of course, I really speak only for myself.

It is the mystery of iniquity. Of evil.

And Judas was remorseful, was rebuked by the very people who hired him, threw the 30 pieces of silver in the temple and, tragically, hanged himself. He despaired of God’s mercy — yet another sin — while Peter, having betrayed Christ, repented — and entered the world as chief among those who would spread the Good Word, even to the point of martyrdom.

Mathias quietly slipped from sight, went quietly about doing the work Judas was meant to do. Tradition tells us he evangelized Ethiopia and also died a martyr.

Did Christ forgive Judas? God is mercy, after all. It is widely assumed that Judas went to hell — because he despaired rather than repented. In hell, he would be beyond intervening for us who often sin in imitation of him; who recognize evil when we see it yet nonetheless sin with abandon. Nor can we intercede with our prayers for him in his eternal misery. It is a hard teaching — teaching us that, not only must we avoid sin but must not despair of God’s mercy when, with our broken wills, we do. I will go on wondering about Judas’s standing in eternity but cannot dwell on it.

But I cannot help thinking — well, he WAS remorseful, at least. How many evil characters have we known who, so far as WE know, died entirely unrepentant. They are legion.

What we know of the post-Resurrection period, we know from that wonderful human record known as The Acts of the Apostles. I’ve only late in life learned to read it, pray over it, be inspired by it, the story of ordinary humans relentlessly moved to serve God, even to the point of death. I feel like a real slacker, reading it.

Of Judas, all that is written of his legacy after the terrible events of Good Friday only deepens his tragedy. Acts 1:15 quotes the Book of Psalms regarding Judas “who was numbered among us and was allotted a share in this ministry.”

Let his encampment become desolate,

and may no one dwell in it.

May another take his office.

An empty office.

Picture that: lights off, yellow tape across the door.

Perhaps a sign: CRIME SCENE

Let us avoid that space, more toxic than if it were infected with Covid.

Pray to avoid evil. Amen.

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