I’ve noticed a curious aspect of being the mother of a child interested in dance, and who has found herself in a number of dance recitals. As I dutifully tell my daughter to ‘GO OUT AND JUST HAVE FUN,’ I have also internally noted when her number came up, where she was placed. Was she front and center? Was she at the back? Did she have a turn at being in the front row? If she isn’t, are there other dancers who get to be in front all the time? If so, were they any good? She’s barely six-years-old, and yet the demon ‘dance mom’ has begun to creep out of my psyche in disconcerting ways.
If I were to ask my congregation members, or even the general public, I bet that they could name the majority of the twelve apostles appointed by Jesus. Or at least a few. We know their names, because they were the tightly knit crew around Jesus. They have their own storylines, plots and even assumed correspondence. They were the ‘in-crowd’ for Jesus, and because of that, our attention always seems to be focused on those who stand out in front, rather than those who are still standing to attention, and showing up, but being in the back row.
Matthias, the replacement for Judas as an apostle, reminds me of this dichotomy between front row and back row. He causes me to consider what that might mean for me as a parent, and as an adult.
Chosen by lot in the Book of Acts, the eleven remaining disciples come up with two names for the empty spot—Justus and Matthias, both who had been with Jesus from the beginning and had been through his ministry, death and resurrection. They cast lots for the final choice, praying that God would know the hearts of those choosing and direct them towards the right one. The lot fell to Matthias, and from that point on, he would be an apostle.
In my mind, I have always known of the crowds who followed Jesus throughout his travels, but my focus is most often on those whose names are widely and well known—the ones who get front billing, placed in the front row, who are somehow more ‘official’ than the rest. We all have these kinds of folks in our own lives, those who seem to always be where the light falls easily on them.
But they are not the only ones who show up. Those in the back row are showing up just as often and just as much. Matthias is one of these folks.
In one commentary on Matthias, I read that “Apart from the information given in the first chapter of Acts, nothing is known of [Matthias]. It would be a mistake to conclude from this that he was a failure and a bad choice as an apostle.” While I poo-pooed this commentary when I read it, it is possible to find ourselves resonating with that assumption: that those who are not first, are last. Or at least, not on par with those who have made a name for themselves.
How many times do we fall into this mindset—that our merit, our value is somehow placed in how well known we are, how close to power we find ourselves? Matthias’ value wasn’t that he was chosen as a disciple; it was that his ministry and mission was sustained no matter where he was. He followed Jesus from the beginning, through to the end, and then into the new beginning again as part of the newly formed Church. We can recall that there were more people—faithful people—who found the message of Jesus to be the Way of Love for them, and who followed him without hope of fame, without assumption of position, who just did it because they loved it.
My daughter loves dance. She doesn’t care where she is placed on the stage. She gets the joy, feels the spirit, takes delight in it, and doesn’t need the ego-boost that I, apparently, sometimes do. The claim to fame isn’t part of the ministry of discipleship, and it behooves me as an adult to remember that—that our faithfulness is not a reality show to be won, but rather transformation for God and glory to God alone.
Matthias showed up, offered his faithfulness and grace, again and again, regardless of whether we would know his name as a saint, or whether he remained nameless in the background. But those nameless people quietly doing the work of faith are never unnoticed, unnamed by God—and for that, I am grateful.
[Image Credit: State Library of Queensland, public domain, dancers competing at the Royal Academy of Dancing (London) exams held in Brisbane and Toowoomba, 1938]
Your piece could not have been more relevant to my family. My 19-year-old daughter also loves to dance. She was a dance major in her high school’s performing arts academy, and graduated from high school with a certificate in dance as well as her academic diploma.
My daughter completed all the required coursework early, mentored younger dancers, and was selected by the director of the company as vice-president of the dance company as a senior. But she loves the discipline of ballet, and the expressiveness of modern and post-modern dance, and never did well at hip-hop and voguing, which is what all the other members wanted to do every number, every performance. So she rarely made it through an audition, and when she did, she was relegated to the back.
Fortunately, after completing the required choreography classes, she was able to perform solos and duets, and cast other dancers for her pieces. I know from trying to support my daughter through this bittersweet experience that eventually, you do start to care when you are constantly fighting with the curtain and have to create your own works if you want to dance. Sometimes you just want to be invited into the cool group, and to be on the team without having to create and be in charge of the team.
Thank you for this piece. It has helped heal some of the hurt I have carried for her all this time, and to see the value of her role in the community, as well as mine, in a different light.
Dear Elizabeth, I cannot tell you how grateful *I* am for this real-life, bittersweet, truth-bearing comment. I struggle with the deep desire for my kids to both fit in, so that not everything is a challenge in their life and vocation, and at the same time hold a deep pride in the ways that they step out and find their own light. Hearing this story from a few years down the road, I am so deeply grateful for the accompaniment you model and share here. You are right. Even I sometimes wish to fit seamlessly in with the prevailing current. Loving someone in the back row is harder the wider one’s peripheral vision gets. You and your daughter have given me a gift right back for my own little girl, and I’ll carry your witness along with Matthias’. With great thanks, Kit