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How does it feel to be a Substitute?

By Canon Ian Morter

Have you ever considered what are the emotional scars left when you are a substitute? Perhaps one of the most frequently experienced roles of a substitute is that on the soccer field, when a member of the club is not considered to be quite good enough to be selected to play in the match but is asked to sit on the side lines and be prepared to be a substitute should a player be injured and taken off the field. Where the scar is even more painful and the situation made worse is when the chosen member of team is not actually ‘delivering’ and the manager takes them out of the game and then calls the substitute to go on and improve the chances of the team in the remainder of the match. The substitute must feel ‘why was I not chosen in the first place – I knew I could have done better!’

Football has never been an area of personal interest but there are other areas for which I do have a passion where substitutes are a regular occurrence. In the areas of Ballet, Opera and Theatre the leading roles are usually covered by an understudy so that the performance may ‘still go on’ should the principle be unwell. There have been a couple of times when I have experienced the dramatic substitute. One memorable occasion was at the Theatre Royal Plymouth when my daughter Chloe and I were attending the Ballet. The principle male dancer collapsed on the stage in Act One and eventually the curtain came down and the announcement was made that in fifteen minutes the understudy would be warmed up and ready to dance the remains of the Ballet. Obviously, the aspiring principle was not disappointed to be the substitute, although probably saddened that the principle was injured he was pleased to have the opportunity to fulfil his preparations as the understudy in front of an encouraging audience. Another memorable occasion was at an opera when the leading lady was having a problem with her voice. She continued in the role without singing as she knew that staging movements and another accomplished singer was flown in to sing the part from her score on the stage apron. The performance ‘went on’ the audience was thrilled and gave a standing ovation to both singers at the curtain call.

On Saturday this week the Church commemorates a great Substitute – St Matthias, who became one of the twelve apostles, but only by default. According to the first chapter of the Acts of the Apostles it was Peter who suggested that after the traitor, Judas Iscariot has left the apostolic twelve short of member, that they should appoint a substitute to take his place. The requirements to be an apostle were, that they should have been present with the Lord Jesus from the beginning of his ministry and had witnessed the resurrection. The members of the early church at that time numbered about 120 and they suggested two candidates, Joseph called Barsabas also known as Justus and the other was Matthias. Unlike the original twelve who had been called to ministry by the Lord himself, now Jesus had ascended to return to his Heavenly Father, the eleven disciples prayed that the Holy Spirit would guide them in their selection and they ‘cast lots’ to see who was be become the substitute for the traitor Judas to make up the Apostolic Twelve. The lots were cast and Matthias was chosen.

I wonder how Matthias felt, was he glad to carry on his Lord’s mission along with the other eleven apostles, yet saddened that he had not actually been called out by name by Jesus himself? Was the fact that he was the replacement for the traitor Judas Iscariot always cast a shadow over his ministry?

St Matthias by the artist Peter Paul Rubens 1577 – 1640
(oil on panel – 108 × 84 cm) painted about 1611
and now in Museum Museo del Prado, Madrid.

This panel belongs to a series of portraits Rubens made of the apostles.

The axe in his hand refers to his death. According to an unconfirmed story Matthias was first stoned and then beheaded, in Jerusalem.

The interesting thing to note is when reading through the New Testament we do not find Matthias mentioned again after his elevation to Apostleship. But that is true of many of the lesser known Apostles and we have to rely upon those of the early church who recalled in their subsequent writings the traditions of how the Christian faith spread through the Middle East especially through the Roman Empire.  It is through the traditions of the Greek writers that Saint Matthias planted the Christian faith in Cappadocia in the area of coasts around the Caspian Sea and his ministry was centred chiefly near the port of Issus.