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 known for replacing Judas among the twelve Apostles following the Ascension of Christ (but before the Pentecost).
The Acts of the Apostles tells the story about 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 the Resurrected Christ. The Apostles then drew lots to determine which of the two would join them, and Matthias was chosen.
Not much else is known about 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.
Additionally, he’s depicted often in sacred art, perhaps most impressively by one of the imposing statues of the 12 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 his honor, the the priest wears red vestments.
Good for him. But for a number of 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?
Well, a few years ago, I was at daily Mass on the Feast of St. Matthias. Only a few 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 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, or called upon in a special way. And 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 a game of chance?
Well, after Mass I was curious, so 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). 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 didn’t even exist yet in the century when he lived. Although everyone does seem 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. There’s been a connection there, 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. They want to go with winners. But I can’t think of a better patron saint for the rest of us.
Still, I would love to make this happen!
Of course the most appropriate outcome is that no one will notice and my efforts will fail. But still.
Saints Matthias and JcBwwakaJ, pray for us!