28 October 2008

Laid-back Simon and Jude the obscure ... misplaced apostles?

Saint Simon and Saint Jude in a two-light window in The Parish Church of Saint Teilo’s, Bishopston, Gower, near Swansea in South Wales

Patrick Comerford

Saint Simon and Saint Jude: 28 October 2008:

Isaiah 28: 14-16; Psalm 119: 89-96; Ephesians 2: 19-22; John 15: 17-27.

Collect: Almighty God, who built your Church upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets with Jesus Christ himself as the chief cornerstone: So join us together in unity of spirit by their doctrine that we may be made a holy temple acceptable to you; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

This morning we celebrate Saint Simon and Saint Jude, Apostles. In an age obsessed with reality television and celebrities who are celebrities just because they are, Simon and Jude appear like a pair of misfits: we know little about their lives or how they lived them, they are hardly famous among the disciples, and certainly are not celebrity apostles.

I think most men here remember schoolyard or street games of football, where we lined up in rows, waiting to be picked, as others were called forward by name, one-by-one, before us. Do you remember that feeling of hoping you wouldn’t be the last one picked, hoping that you would be called, that someone would remember your name?

Simon and Jude are way down the list of the Twelve Apostles, and their names are often confused or forgotten. In the New Testament lists of the Twelve (Matthew 10: 2-4; Mark 3: 16-19; Luke 6: 14-16; Acts 1: 13), they come in near the end, in tenth and eleventh places. Well, with Judas in twelfth place, they just about make it onto the first eleven.

The ninth name on the lists is James, the James we remembered last Thursday. Judas or Jude is often referred to as “the brother of James” and this in turn leads to him being identified with the “brothers of the Lord.” So, on this day, we celebrate Simon the Zealot, one of the original Twelve; Judas of James (also called Thaddaeus or Lebbaeus), also one of the Twelve; and Jude or Judas the brother of James and author of the Epistle of Jude.

But we’re not too clear about their names. Simon is not mentioned by name in the New Testament except on these lists – after all, there is a better-known Simon than this Simon: there is Simon Peter. And there is a Judas who is worse than this Jude: Jude is so close to Judas – their names are the same (Ιούδας) – is it any wonder that he’s known popularly as the patron saint of lost causes?

And the confusion about their names continues: is Simon the Zealot (Luke 6: 15, Acts 1: 13) really a Cananean (Matthew 10: 4, Mark 3: 18), a zealot, a rebel? Or is there a ring of teasing, of irony, in this name? Was he someone who was so laid-back or relaxed that he was easily left at the bottom of the list? And Jude truly is Jude the Obscure: why is Jude not remembered as Judas or Judah? And is he the same person as Thaddaeus or Lebbaeus (see Matthew 10: 3, Mark 3: 18)?

After the Last Supper, Jude asked Christ why he chose to reveal himself only to the disciples, and received the reply: “Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to them and make our home with them” (John 14: 22-23).

The author of the Epistle of Jude names himself as Judas the brother of James. In this brief letter to the Church, Jude says he planned to write a different letter, but then heard of the misleading views of some false teachers. He makes a passionate appeal to his readers to preserve the purity of the Christian faith and their good reputation.

The Epistle includes a memorable exhortation to “contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints” (Jude 3), and ends with that wonderful closing: “Now to him who is able to keep you from falling, and to make you stand without blemish in the presence of his glory with rejoicing, to the only wise God our Saviour, be glory, majesty, power, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.” (Jude 24-25.)

But after that, surprisingly, we know very little about the later apostolic mission of Simon and Jude. Some ancient writers say they went together as missionaries to Persia, and were martyred there, sawn in half in Suanir.

Other traditions say these two did not travel together. Instead, Jude preached the Gospel in Judea, Samaria, Syria, and Mesopotamia. In the year 62 AD, he returned to Jerusalem for the election of Simeon as Bishop of Jerusalem in succession to James the Brother of the Lord, and then went back to travelling and teaching and was martyred in Pella in Armenia.

But these are stories without any historical foundation. In truth, we know very little about these two saints, bundled together at the end of a list, like two hopeless causes. There was no danger of them being servants who might want to be greater than their master (John 15: 20). All we can presume is that they laboured on, perhaps anonymously, in building up the Apostolic Church.

But then the Church does not celebrate celebrities who are famous and public; we honour the saints who labour and whose labours are often hidden.

In our Gospel reading, the Apostles are warned about suffering the hatred of “the world.” Later as the Gospel was spread around the Mediterranean, isolated Christians may not have realised how quickly the Church was growing; in their persecutions and martyrdom, they may have felt forlorn and that Christianity was in danger of being a lost cause.

But in our Gospel reading, Christ encourages a beleaguered Church to see its afflictions and wounds as his own.

No matter how much we suffer in our ministry and mission, no matter how others may forget us, no matter how obscure we become, no matter how many people forget our names, no matter how often our labouring in the Gospel appear to others to be a lost cause, we can be assured that we are no longer strangers and aliens, that we are citizens with the saints, that we are building up the household of God upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ himself as the cornerstone, and that we are being built together spiritually into the dwelling place of God (Ephesians 2: 19-22).

Post Communion Prayer: Lord God, the source of truth and love: Keep us faithful to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, united in prayer and the breaking of the bread, and one in joy and simplicity of heart, in Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Canon Patrick Comerford is Director of Spiritual Formation, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute. This reflection was shared at the Eucharist on the Feast Day of Saint Simon and Saint Jude, 28 October 2008.

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