So they proposed two, Joseph called Barsabbas,
who was also known as Justus, and Matthias.
Then they prayed,
“You, Lord, who know the hearts of all,
show which one of these two you have chosen
to take the place in this apostolic ministry
from which Judas turned away to go to his own place.”
Then they gave lots to them, and the lot fell upon Matthias,
and he was counted with the Eleven Apostles.
Today is the Feast Day of Saint Matthias, who is best known as the man who replaced Judas among the twelve Apostles. His selection followed the Ascension of Christ, but took place before the Pentecost.
The Acts of the Apostles tells the story of how the eleven chose two candidates from among the disciples “who accompanied us the whole time the Lord Jesus came and went among us, beginning from the baptism of John until the day on which he was taken up from us, become with us a witness to his resurrection” (Acts 1:21-22). The two men they chose, in other words, had followed Jesus from the beginning of his public ministry and saw the Resurrected Christ with their own eyes. The Apostles then drew lots to determine which of the two would join them, and Matthias was chosen.
Not much else is known about St. Matthias, although there are certainly many traditions about his life after the Resurrection. As with the other eleven disciples, there are legends that have been passed down about his subsequent missionary adventures and eventual martyrdom.
He’s also depicted quite often in sacred art—perhaps most impressively by one of the imposing statues of the Apostles in St. Paul’s Outside the Walls Basilica in Rome:
Matthias is often portrayed holding a book, as in the image above. Other images have him holding an ax (thought to be the instrument of his martyrdom):
Not to be outdone, some depict him with both a book and an ax:
In the Latin Church, May 14 is celebrated as his Feast Day, and in recognition of his martyrdom the priest wears red vestments.
Good for him. But for many reasons, I’ve always been drawn to the other guy: Joseph called Barsabbas, who was also known as Justus (JcBwwakaJ for short).
The passage from Acts makes clear that both men had “paid their dues”—they had proven to be faithful disciples. But through what some might call divine providence, and others might call blind chance, Matthias was chosen and JcBwwakaJ was passed over for the greatest job promotion in history.
Why does his part of the story resonate with me?
A few years ago, I was at daily Mass on the Feast of St. Matthias. Just days before, I had been passed over for a promotion at work. It was a job I wanted badly, and—to be completely honest—I was devastated. I was carrying a lot of pain with me when I arrived at Mass, and the priest’s homily didn’t help. The priest spoke about Saint Matthias, and how sometimes we are chosen to do great things, given new responsibilities, or called upon to do something special. During this homily, my mind kept turning to the runner-up: I wonder how he felt? What did he do after he lost out in that game of chance?
I was still curious after Mass, and I tried to find out anything I could about his fate, but to little avail. Something I discovered, believe it or not, was that there are actually quite a few sermons posted online by Evangelical pastors about JcBwwakaJ (I guess I’m not alone in my thoughts about him). In the Catholic tradition, there was very little in the way of hagiography or legend about him, however.
In fact, the most extensive information about him online (at least that I could find) was provided by his Wikipedia page, which tells us:
“In Christian tradition, this Justus went on to become Bishop of Eleutheropolis, where he died a martyr and is venerated as Saint Justus of Eleutheropolis. The location provides a date for this legend, since the site of Eleutheropolis was a mere village called Betaris in the 1st century, whose inhabitants were slain and enslaved with others by Vespasian in AD 68 (Josephus). The site was refounded, as Eleutheropolis, in AD 200 by Septimius Severus. The first historical bishop, Macrinus, can be found in the 4th century, when Eleutheropolis was an important city.”
So according to tradition, he went on to become bishop of a city called Eleutheropolis, which wouldn’t even exist until centuries after he died. Although I could find very little about him, all the sources seemed to agree that he died a martyr’s death.
Recently I went looking again for more information about him. It turns out, at least according to this website, that his memorial is celebrated on July 20, which also happens to be my birthday. We’ve had a connection, all along.
It’s a shame that Saint Joseph (or Barsabbas or Justus or whatever his real name is) hasn’t been officially declared the patron saint of bridesmaids, understudies, background singers, second-place finishers, the overlooked, people who get passed over for promotions at work, and the kid who gets picked last for the team.
My theory is that JcBwwakaJ has gone unnoticed because the people who get to make those decisions are the type of people who get picked for stuff, so it doesn’t occur to them. I’m not saying they’re totally at fault for this—they’re quite busy doing bishop things and cardinal things and they’ve probably forgotten all about the guy who flunked out during their second year of seminary and now works as an assistant manager at a car wash. It’s only natural that usually end up picking the winners. But I can’t think of a better patron saint for the rest of us.
I would love to make this happen, to see the name of Saint JcBwwakaJ added to the liturgical calendar and venerated by Christian winners and Christian runners-up, picked as a favorite confirmation name, turned to for intercession when hopes are dashed!
Of course the most appropriate outcome of this dream is that no one will notice and my efforts will fail. But not in the eyes of God, and that’s really what matters.
Saints Matthias and JcBwwakaJ, pray for us!