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  • Writer's pictureImmersed in Christ

Prophets Recognize that Authority is Necessary and Good

by Fr. David M. Knight

May 14, 2024

Tuesday of the Seventh Week of Easter

Feast of Saint Matthias, Apostle

Lectionary No. 564

Acts 1:15-17, 20-26/Jn 15:9-17


Matthias became one of the Twelve after Jesus ascended into heaven. Acts 1:15-17, 20-26 shows us Peter, even before Pentecost, exercising leadership in the Church. He called the community to elect a replacement for Judas so that the number of “overseers” in the Church would be brought up to twelve again.

The word “apostle,” as used in the New Testament, has both the generic meaning of “sent,” and a specific meaning on two levels: “1. In the wide sense, ambassadors of the Risen Christ on whom the Church was founded, possessing authority (but not superiority) over the communities; that is, one of pastoral service. 2. In the narrow sense…they were the Twelve, the apostolic college charged with witnessing to the fact that the Risen One was the same Jesus of Nazareth whom they had known” (X. Léon-Dufour, Dictionary of the New Testament).

In Psalm 109:8, cited by Peter, the position for which Matthias was chosen was one of “overseer” or “superintendency.” In the Greek of Luke’s Acts, it is episkope, from which our word “episcopacy” comes.

But Matthias was chosen, not just to be a bishop, but to be one of the Twelve, which has a unique meaning as designating the “twelve foundations” of the Church as the continuance of the Twelve Tribes of Israel (Revelation 21:14). To be a “witness to Christ’s resurrection” as the Twelve were, Matthias had to be one of those who had been in the company of Jesus and the others from the baptism of John until Jesus’ ascension into heaven. The Twelve are the official eyewitnesses chosen by Jesus to link the risen Jesus to the historical Jesus and the “charismatic” Church to the historical community that originally gathered around him. Paul was an Apostle chosen by the risen Jesus himself, but not one of the Twelve. Likewise, the bishops are, strictly speaking, successors “to” rather than “of” the Twelve — or better, their “vicars” — because they are appointed to transmit, not their own witness, but that which was unique to the Twelve (see Tillard, The Bishop of Rome, pp. 93-97).

In John 15:9-17 Jesus gives us the formula for joy and peace: “Live on in my love.” We can get caught up in the technicalities of ecclesial structures and offices, and to some extent this is unavoidable, but the focus of our lives has to be love. This is what Jesus came to give and empower us to give. His “new commandment” is to love one another, just as I have loved you” (John 13:34). He urges us to “abide in love” so that his “joy may be in us, and our joy may be complete.”

Authority is necessary and good. God himself has supreme authority. But that is not the way Jesus wants us to relate to him or to others in the Church: “I do not call you servants… but friends.” Until we seek, experience, and find our greatest joy in friendship with Jesus Christ, and in “communion in the Holy Spirit” with others, we have not really heard the Good News.

Initiative: Be a prophet. Listen to the Spirit and “abide in love.”

Reflections brought to you by the Immersed in Christ Ministry

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