Joseph Justus, known as Barsabbas, has a very small part in the book of Acts. In Chapter 1, Peter suggests choosing a man, one who was with the disciples from the time John was baptising until Jesus’ Resurrection and Ascension, to replace Judas Iscariot as one of the twelve to act as a witness to Jesus’ resurrection. Two candidates were nominated – Matthias and Joseph known as Barsabbas whose surname was Justus. Matthias was chosen by lot, and very little more is told about either of them. Although Barsabbas’ name is given in some detail, he isn’t mentioned again.
But I wonder how Barsabbas reacted? He hadn’t been chosen as one of the twelve, despite having been one with Jesus the whole time; now, he isn’t chosen again. I can imagine him feeling more than a little isolated.
“You know, I felt a little bit grieved when I wasn’t chosen as one of the twelve, the special ones. I’d been around just as long as they. I felt left out. But at least I wasn’t the only one. Matthias wasn’t chosen either, and as time went on, more people joined the number of disciples with Jesus, who weren’t one of special ones. I did wonder what they’d got that I hadn’t. I mean, it’s basically saying that I’m not special enough, I’m not worth it. Then Judas betrayed him – I always did wonder why he chose Judas – and there was a space left in the twelve. It was Peter who suggested we should replace Judas. Well, obviously it had to be someone who’d been around as long as the twelve, and seen and heard most of what they had, seen Jesus and listened to all but the most intimate of his teaching. I was nominated, along with Matthias – but he was chosen. I was gutted. Not good enough again. I mean I was by no means the only disciple who wasn’t one of the twelve at this point. But I was one of those who’d known Jesus since his baptism. I STILL wasn’t good enough. Matthias was, for some reason; I missed him. We weren’t as close once he was chosen to be in the twelve; couldn’t be. But we’d been mates; close to Jesus, but not part of the core. We’d spend time together when Jesus was off with just the twelve. But now – I was left out again.”
Or maybe “I didn’t mind when I wasn’t chosen as one of the twelve. Jesus had spent all night praying about that decision, and he obviously had to choose some and not others, as there were more than twelve of us, and the number was limited. We all understood that. I wasn’t one of them, neither was my friend Matthias. We were still able to follow Jesus, we were still his disciples, just not part of the core. It was a shock to us all when Jesus was crucified, and even more when we heard that Judas had betrayed him. It made sense when Peter suggested that one of us who’d been around from the beginning should replace Judas. They nominated Matthias and me; the lot chose Matthias, and I think it fell on the right person. We both – we all – had our ministries in the days that followed, especially after the Holy Spirit came upon us on the day of Pentecost. My role wasn’t to be one of the Apostles; but I still had a role to play.”
Maybe his reaction was a bit of both; or maybe he was relieved that he wasn’t chosen. It’s impossible to know for certain. Or how the women who had been following Jesus for just as long felt about being left out of the process altogether! It would have been easy for Barsabbas to feel aggrieved and left out; it would be easy to let that sense of grievance grow (search out the poem ‘The Poison Tree’ by William Blake). One hopes that those years of following Jesus, followed by the experience of Pentecost to come, helped Barsabbas to release any negative feelings he may have had, and root himself more firmly in God’s unique love of him. That can be easier said than done! But Barsabbas’ role as the one not chosen may have been just as important as Matthias’ new role: to follow his own path as one of many disciples; as one of those who had followed Jesus from the beginning, but not one of the twelve; maybe as one who had learnt to accept that not being chosen didn’t mean he was second best, but still a follower of his Lord, with his contribution to make in the life of the early church; not as one seeking importance, but as one willing to follow where the Spirit led, whatever its ‘importance’ in the eyes of others.