What ever happened to Barsabbas, also called Justus?

We never hear anything about Barsabbas in sermons, do we? Yet he and Matthias were both candidates for the apostolic position that Judas Iscariot once held. Straws were drawn and Matthias was chosen. Barsabbas became a name for Bible trivia.

I wonder about Justus because I too was once asked to be a candidate for an office in our organization, only in this case it was not to fill the position of a traitor. Rather, I was to be considered alongside an incumbent, the President of the organization, and the people voting would not draw straws because we live in a democracy and vote properly for our candidates. No luck, like the length of a straw, of course no politics, just the will of God.

I did not know that I was the only one who was “opposing” the President and, in fact, I had informed the candidate committee that I thought the President was doing a fine job and did not need any “opposition.” Nevertheless, I was given to understand that our bylaws required at least two people running for an office, so I was willing to be considered a candidate.

I don’t think that Barsabbas was a token candidate, like I was. He would have been a legitimate choice if Matthias had not “won.” However, in my case and, unlike Barsabbas, I was a sacrificial lamb. There were no other people who allowed their name on the ballot to “run against” the President. It turned out that I was the only other choice, and unless the incumbent has performed terribly, it would be hard to unseat her (in this case). I thought about Justus again. Surely, he was a man who would have made a fine apostle. Although I don’t believe that I would have made a fine President, I needed to at least be capable in order to be seriously considered.

Perhaps I was—no one told me. I thought that I might be thanked for my sacrificial duty, just as I like to think that Barsabbas was thanked for his willingness to be considered a “straw man.” I wasn’t thanked, even acknowledged, as a token representative. I probably should have been—although since when do you thank a sheep for sticking his (or her) neck out. And it is not that I was especially sensitive, or because I thought that I was someone special. Rather, I believe there should be some kind of “thanks protocol” for people (not sheep), who are willing to run for an office and lose.

The situation was different in another conference in a related organization where no one was willing to run against the President. It seemed to me that there was some fudging on the rules, so that people voted and said they either liked the President, or they didn’t like him. And of course they pretty well had to like him or have no President. I wonder if we shouldn’t also thank all the people who were unwilling to oppose that President. They saved the conference a lot of time.

This sounds like sour grapes for me, so I would like to make it clear that I have run for offices in the organization before and have “won” and “lost.” For example, several years ago I was nominated for the Board of Directors of an organization. As the elections took place I moved further down the list and finally squeaked in as the Second Alternate. Later I ended up on the Board and was re-elected. But every time someone is elected at least one other person (and often several) is not.

This system makes me wonder how many Barsabbas-like people there are in organizations—unrecognized people who have been willing to “run” for offices. Most, it turns out, do not want to be candidates. They have their “own” programs and do not want the distractions or responsibilities of office—or the possibility of losing. There is no obligation in our organizations to serve and it is not difficult to understand why.

There are many things to consider before one leaves his or her name stand as a candidate for an office, none the least the time that it takes. My wife and I came into our organizations as Bible translators. Nevertheless, I “gave up” eight years of my life to serve in various administrative roles, ten years to serve on organizational Boards, 13 more in International Administration, and the equivalent of eight years or so teaching at training courses and schools. Although many members have done much more, especially since we now have professional administrators and teachers, my “down time” was considerable.

Of course there are also administrative perks that even Barsabbas would have liked: these days a corporate credit card, a budget, a computer and peripherals, retreats, world travel, speaking engagements and other functions to take our wives to. We receive respect and are listened to carefully for our point of view. All that changes once we leave office. Suddenly, our opinions and wisdom have less weight.

My point is that anyone who is a “sacrificial lamb” for an election should be thanked. Of course, I am also thankful that I was not actually slaughtered, although I have heard of attacks on candidates that are ruthless, so the metaphor of a sacrificial lamb may not be inappropriate. I am very hopeful that our conference election process is not contrived. I have solicited the curriculum vitae of outstanding people who could serve us well on a Board and have seen them soundly defeated. I have tried to remember to thank them for allowing our balloting abuse to take place. They may have thought that they would be elected, even if we warned them of our electoral process, based as can be upon popularity and persuasiveness.

I wonder if Barrsabas was warned: “Justus, my friend, it is just possible that you will get the short straw and you will need to go back to your fishing boat.” But, if that happened, my bet is that he was at least thanked and that he was not a straw man, or even part of a straw vote.

June, 2002