I have a new saint I pray to in addition to Our Lady of Guadalupe, St. Joseph, St. Ann, St. Jude, St. Agnes and St. Michael. And while this saint is new to my prayer list, he’s not “new.” In fact, he’s been around a long time, since the very first Pentecost. And while he hasn’t been designated the patron saint of any particular cause, he should be the patron saint of the disappointed.
He’s known by various names, including St. Joseph Barsabbas and St. Justus, but he’s often forgotten, except on the Sunday when we read the first chapter of the Acts of the Apostles in which St. Luke talks about the gathering of the apostles to replace Judas Iscariot as one of the 12.
You see, Joseph Barsabbas was in the running for the job along with Matthias ... and Matthias got it.
As St. Luke recorded: “So they proposed two, Joseph called Barsabbas, who was also known as Justus, and Matthias. Then, they prayed, ‘You, Lord, who know the hearts of all, show which one of these two you have chosen to take the place in this apostolic ministry from which Judas turned away to go to his own place.’ Then, they gave lots to them, and the lot fell upon Matthias, and he was counted with the Eleven Apostles.”
Joseph was pretty much forgotten for the next 2,000 years. However, to me, he’s one of the most sympathetic people in the Bible. He was one of the original disciples, who followed Christ from his baptism in the Jordan to his Ascension.
He’s the guy who didn’t get the job. Who didn’t get the promotion. Who didn’t get accepted by the college of his choice. All of us can relate to that.
Who hasn’t suffered disappointment? But none of our disappointments can compare with his — not being named as one of the Twelve Apostles. He was lost in the shadows of history, eclipsed by someone else’s success.
If you’ve ever lost out on an opportunity, you know what I’m talking about. For my part, I’ve been passed over for more jobs than I care to remember, but I like to think the finger of God was guiding my life according to God’s plan, if not according to my plan. And the same was true of Joseph of Barsabbas.
St. John Chrysostom writes, “The other candidate (Joseph) was not annoyed, for the apostolic writers would not have concealed failings of their own, seeing they have told of the very chief apostles, that on other occasions had indignation, and not only once, but again and again.”
We live in a meritocracy and often think of the guy who didn’t get the job as deficient or, worse, as a failure. God, however, isn’t your typical corporate CEO, and with God, worldly titles and honors count for nothing. As St. Luke said, God “knows the heart of all.”
While God’s will is inscrutable, I like to think that Joseph was humbler and God knew he could deal with the disappointment. I also like to think Joseph wasn’t any less worthy, just that God had a different plan for him.
If I had been in a similar situation, I would have been angry or bitter, but Joseph wasn’t. He continued to serve Christ faithfully until the end. He became a bishop and tradition says he was martyred at Eleutheropolis, a Roman city in Judea, southwest of Jerusalem.
During the first century, it was a village called Betaris, which Roman forces under Emperor Vespasian attacked in 68 A.D. to quell Jewish rebels in the area. About 10,000 were killed, among them Joseph Barsabbas, who refused to renounce his Christian faith.
According to some accounts, he worked miracles and after Pentecost spread the Gospel message of Jesus’ resurrection. There’s a relic of him in the chapel at the University of Notre Dame, and his feast day is July 20.
Jesus himself knew what it was like to be rejected, and he valued humility as one of the greatest of virtues, central to spiritual growth. And we can never forget the other St. Joseph, who was also a man of quiet, humble and courageous action.
St. Joseph Barsabbas, pray for us. Pray that we can see God’s will in all our disappointments.
Joe Pisani of Orange is a writer whose work has appeared in Catholic publications nationwide. He and his wife Sandy have four daughters.