Acts 1.15-17,20-26; Psalm 112; John 15.9-17
After Jesus’ Ascension, Matthias was selected by the eleven surviving disciples as a replacement for Judas. Clearly they were impressed with the analogy between themselves and the twelve tribes of Israel, so an alternative for the traitorous disciple was imperative.
He was chosen from among those who had travelled around with Jesus and his disciples from the beginning of the Galilean ministry, a reminder that there were others who followed Jesus besides the chosen circle of twelve.
After his election as a “witness to the resurrection,” however, the New Testament records nothing further about Matthias. (Interestingly, the Roman Canon of the Mass names St Paul, not St Matthias, as the twelfth apostle.) Tradition has it that Matthias went on to preach in Cappadocia and along the coasts of the Caspian Sea and finally in Ethiopia where he was martyred. He is one of those who witnessed to the triumph of Christ over Satan, sin and death by laying down their own lives.
Acts 13.26-33; Psalm 2; John 14.1-6
“We are already the children of God but what we are to be in the future has not yet been revealed; all we know is, that when it is revealed we shall be like him because we shall see him as he really is.”
[I John 3.3] To live life that is worthy of the name [John 10.10] requires that we live without crippling regrets about the past and without stultifying anxieties about the future.
What will our future entail? We don’t need soothsayers to answer that question. About the details we cannot speak with certainty, but the details don’t matter. Knowing ourselves to be children of God we know with confidence what our inheritance will be. [Galatians 4.6-7] God has invited us to call him “Our Father.” [Matthew 6.9] He has given us power to become his children. [John 1.12] That assurance enables us to follow Jesus on the way. [Mark 10.52] That assurance emboldens us, like him, to lay down our lives [John 10.17-18], knowing that he who conquered death and hell will enable us, also, to live. [John 14.19]
Acts 13.13-25; Psalm 88; John 13.16-20
In the south transept of Chartres Cathedral, under the rose window, four tall windows depict the four major Hebrew prophets—Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Daniel—as giants, with smaller, more human-sized Evangelists—Matthew, Mark, Luke and John—atop their shoulders, hinting that these writers of the Gospels were mere scribes [Matthew 13.52] and recorders [John 20.31] by comparison with those ancient spiritual giants. Yet, it is they, who tell the story of Jesus, who see further. “I tell you that man prophets and kings wanted to see what you see, and never saw it; to hear what you hear, and never heard it.” [Luke 10.24]
St Paul’s programmatic summary expounds the history of Israel as a movement from lesser to greater: from Saul (himself a giant of a man [I Samuel 9.2]) to David (the youngest of his father’s sons, and at his first appearances risibly small [I Samuel 16.11-12; 17.32-43]); and from David to his greater son [Luke 1.32-34].
We rightly think ourselves dwarves, of no lasting consequence. [Psalm 22.6] Yet we have been enabled to see, enabled most of all by our acknowledgement of the limitations of our sight. [John 9.41] We do not see all things put to right, but we see Jesus. [Hebrews 2.8-9] We do not see Jesus physically, but we experience his presence and trust him. [John 20.29] We welcome him [Apocalypse 3.20] and in that hospitality we receive all the gifts of the One who sent him.
Acts 12.24—13.5; Psalm 66; John 12.44-50
Paul and Barnabas formed a great team ministry. Barnabas became Paul’s promoter after his Damascus Road conversion and offered reassurance to those who weren’t convinced that Paul was really a Christian disciple. [Acts 9.26-30] Together they went to Antioch [11.25-26], the capital of the Roman province of Syria, and to Barnabas’ native Cyprus [13.4]. Together they organised a fund for the relief of impoverished Christians in Jerusalem [11.30] and at the Council of Jerusalem [15.5-29] they jointly advocated a mission to the Gentiles. [15.12, 22]
Sometime later, however, Paul and Barnabas fell out after a violent quarrel [15.39]. Perhaps the disagreement concerned Barnabas’ cousin John Mark [15.37-39; Colossians 4.10], but Paul’s own account suggests more fundamental differences between them. [Galatians 2.11-13] In time Paul and Mark worked together again [II Timothy 4.11; Philemon 24] but if Paul and Barnabas ever reconciled the New Testament doesn’t record it.
Both Paul and Barnabas continued their missionary work, however, Barnabas with Mark and Paul with Silas. [Acts 15.39-40] Their estrangement is a sad, discordant note, a reminder of the difficulties that strong and passionate people can find in working together as the instruments of God. But God brings good even out of human sin. By the break-up of this successful team, the proclamation of the word of God is doubled! The work of each of them bore lasting fruit. [John 15.16] Both Barnabas and Paul ended their lives as martyrs.
Acts 11.19-26; Psalm 86; John 10.22-30
Most observers of the first generation of Christians saw this “way” as just another of the sects of Judaism. All of Jesus’ disciples were Jews, and, apart from his few forays into Samaritan territory, most of those Jesus encountered during his earthly life were Jewish. “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the House of Israel” [Matthew 15.24] Jesus himself declared, and admonished his disciples “Do not turn your steps to pagan territory, and do not enter any Samaritan town; go rather to the lost sheep of the House of Israel.” [Matthew 10.5-6]
Nevertheless, after the resurrection, he gives a fresh instruction: “Go, make disciples of all the nations.” [Matthew 28.19] And very early in the growth of the nascent church disciples began preaching to Gentiles, proclaiming the Good News of the Lord Jesus to them as well. For the subsequent history of the Church these new disciples were to be central, as Babylon and Egypt, Philistia, Tyre and Ethiopia and men and women from the far reaches of the earth came to recognise themselves as sheep that belong to Christ Jesus, listening to His voice.
Acts 11.1-18; Psalms 41-42; John 10.1-10
Take a look at the entirety of Psalms 41 and 42 (the numbering of the Vulgate; in the Hebrew Bible, and in most English translations, they are Psalms 42 and 43). Together they form one thought, punctuated thrice [41(42).5, 11; 42(43).5] with a refrain: ‘Why so downcast, my soul; why do you sigh within me? Put your hope in God: I shall praise him yet, my saviour, my God.’
The Psalmist begins by comparing himself to a panting deer, drained and dehydrated by a long run. ‘So longs my soul for you, my God.’ He is taunted, he says, by observers who think his quest is foolish and irrational. Yet, he says, he is buoyed because he knows that his journey is a pilgrimage to ‘the wonderful Tent’, the place where God is to be found. That altar remains our goal, that place of sacrifice where earthly hopes are met and transcended by heavenly bounty, where God offers himself as food to satisfy all our desires and longings.
In our beautiful church, experience the full impact of the entire Gospel According to Mark, on Thursday 12th March 2022 starting at 19:00.
Performed by Fr Joseph Morris. There is no entry cost and no need to book. There will be a retiring collection.