The apostles stand at a crossroads. St. Matthias is chosen to replace Judas. They were one apostle short; evidently they could not just leave the spot unfilled. The 11 had some criteria in mind, and they chose two men who fit those criteria. But the final choice came down to something no more deliberate than a roll of dice.
|Acts 1:15-17, 21-26 • Ps. 1|
1 John 5:9-13 • John 17:6-9
When the Coptic Orthodox Church of Egypt had to choose a successor for the saintly Pope Shenouda III a few years ago, the final decision was also made by drawing lots. Candidates were prepared and vetted, but that only narrowed it down. In the end Pope Tawadros II ascended the throne of St. Mark because a blindfolded child picked his name out of a glass bowl. The Christians of Egypt stood at an important and momentous crossroads. Islamists had swept away an entrenched secular regime and now held power, and everything seemed to be at stake. The Copts put in their own best efforts but finally they threw their hands in the air and trusted that the Lord’s will would be done.
Jesus’ prayer for the disciples in John 17 represents something of a parting discourse. Jesus is about to be betrayed and handed over, but before he goes to his Father, he prays for those who belong to him who must remain in the world: “I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one.” The prayer is a dense choreography of bestowal and donation between the Father and Son, and the disciples are taken up into the movements: “I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. … Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; for the words that you gave to me I have given to them.” What Jesus has he has from the Father, and what the Father has given him he has given to those the Father has given him. He prays not on behalf of the world but “on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours.”
We know where we are supposed to fit in this prayer. But who do we belong to, exactly? “All mine are yours, and yours are mine,” Jesus tells his Father. “Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one. While I was with them, I protected them in your name that you have given me.” The disciples and all of us who believe after them are marked by the name, but whose? “Your name that you have given me,” says Jesus. Do we belong to the Father? Or do we belong to the Son? The Son doesn’t have a name of his own because he alone receives his Father’s name — he is the only begotten. Keep us yours forever, Lord, make all the nations yours, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
“So that they may be one, as we are one.” This prayer for unity rightly serves as a warrant and mandate for the work of unity among divided Christians. It really does require us to seek and build unity, because our division really does contradict the will of Christ. But in the end our hope for unity lies not in our own best efforts but simply in this: that it is the Lord’s will. Make us one, Lord, as you will us to be. Make it so. Preserve us in your name, Lord, keep us from the evil one. Keep us in the Father’s name that he has given you, the name above every name.
Look It Up
Read Psalm 133.
Think About It
How may I and my parish cooperate with God’s will for unity in the body of Christ?