Next Sunday's readings: St Simon and St Jude, Apostles

18 October 2007

by John Pridmore

Isaiah 28.14-16; Ephesians 2.19-end; John 15.17-end

THE CHURCH does not celebrate celebrities. It celebrates saints. The distinction is an important one. The lives of celebrities are public exhibitions. The notion of a hidden celebrity is a nonsense. It is otherwise with the saints.

We may know a lot about some saints, but about most we know little or nothing. And none of that great company — not Simon, not Jude — would have it otherwise. We honour them for their very hiddenness.

For Luke, Simon was “Simon the Zealot” (Luke 6.15, Acts 1.13). For Matthew and Mark, he was “Simon the Cananaean”, a translation of the Hebrew qana, “the zealous one” (Matthew 10.4, Mark 3.18). Both titles amount to the same and to much less than is sometimes made of them.

To describe Simon as a “zealot” does not necessarily mean that he belonged to one of the terrorist groups committed to the violent overthrow of the Romans. (Still less likely is the legend that he was crucified in the market town of Caistor, Lincolnshire, on the A46 to Cleethorpes.) That he was called “the zealot” simply means that he was zealous. Was it perhaps a teasing and ironical nickname for the one of the twelve who in fact was the most relaxed and laid-back?

Jude is “Jude the equally obscure”. He is, literally, “Judas of James” (Luke 6.16, Acts 1.13), that is to say, “Judas, the son of James”. Presumably he is to be identified with the mysterious Thaddaeus who appears in the lists of the apostles in Matthew and Mark (Matthew 10.3, Mark 3.18). A little letter with a lovely ending (“Now unto him who is able to keep us from falling . . .”), which just makes it into the New Testament, is attributed to Jude “brother of James”.

But all we really know about Jude is who he wasn’t. He was “Judas not Iscariot” (John 14.22). It is our Jude, not Judas Iscariot, who asks why it should be that Jesus reveals himself to some and not to others. Behind that question there can, of course, lurk a less innocent complaint: “Why don’t others see things my way?”

Because his name continued to recall his unfortunate namesake, there was initially a resistance to invoking Jude. So he became “the saint of last resort”. But eventually “the saint of last resort” becomes “the patron saint of lost causes” (including, we learn, the Chicago Police Department), and in that capacity countless desperate people still turn to him. Their prayers and thanks to him are posted in the press and on the web. Sue pleads to St Jude: “Please help me. I am unemployed, alone & becoming depressed about my situation. I need a job ASAP & please heal my cat’s ears.”

In the absence of historical evidence, speculation and superstition flourish. Neither, incidentally, is to be despised. Aversion to speculation can merely be atrophied imagination; and the piety, however naïve, that begs St Jude to heal Tibbles is truer to the spirit of Christian prayer than the scepticism that can voice only devout generalities.

And so I pray: “Most holy apostle, St Jude Thaddeus, faithful servant and friend of Jesus, the name of the traitor has caused you to be forgotten by many. But the Church honours and invokes you universally as the patron of hopeless cases, of things almost despaired of. Pray for me, I am so helpless and alone.”

Our gospel addresses a community feeling helpless and alone. In John’s language, the Church is suffering the hatred of “the world”. We picture the Christian gospel spreading like wild-fire around the Mediterranean. But there must have been many occasions when the Kingdom of God appeared as folorn a cause as any taken to St Jude.

The repeated warnings in the Gospels that, towards the end, hard times would come reflect situations where those hard times were already being experienced. In the imagery of the New Testament, the last battle has already begun. The Jesus of John’s Gospel encourages a beleagured church to see its afflictions as the wounds of the war that will truly end all wars, the divine engagement with sin, suffering, and death, the final outcome of which is certain.

Meanwhile, we have some Christian common sense from our Old Testament reading. The  New Revised Standard Version’s “One who trusts will not panic” captures the force of the text that the older and more literal versions memorably translate as “He that believeth shall not make haste.”

Sometimes a Kierkegaardian dread overwhelms us, a “sickness unto death”, and we wonder how much of a lifetime has been spent in pursuit of lost causes — such, perhaps, as disentangling the different lists of the apostles in the New Testament.

One commanding more authority than Corporal Jones tells us not to panic. The cause of the Kingdom is not lost, but it is not best served by headless chickens.



Text of readings

Isaiah 28.14-16

14Therefore hear the word of the LORD, you scoffers
who rule this people in Jerusalem.
15Because you have said, ‘We have made a covenant with death,
and with Sheol we have an agreement;
when the overwhelming scourge passes through
it will not come to us;
for we have made lies our refuge,
and in falsehood we have taken shelter’;
16therefore thus says the Lord GOD,
See, I am laying in Zion a foundation stone,
a tested stone,
a precious cornerstone, a sure foundation:
‘One who trusts will not panic.’

Ephesians 2.19-22

19You are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, 20built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. 21In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; 22in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling-place for God.

John 15.17-27

Jesus said to his disciples: 17‘I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.

18‘If the world hates you, be aware that it hated me before it hated you. 19If you belonged to the world, the world would love you as its own. Because you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world – therefore the world hates you. 20Remember the word that I said to you, “Servants are not greater than their master.” If they persecuted me, they will persecute you; if they kept my word, they will keep yours also. 21But they will do all these things to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me. 22If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have sin; but now they have no excuse for their sin. 23Whoever hates me hates my Father also. 24If I had not done among them the works that no one else did, they would not have sin. But now they have seen and hated both me and my Father. 25It was to fulfil the word that is written in their law, “They hated me without a cause.”

26‘When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who comes from the Father, he will testify on my behalf. 27You also are to testify because you have been with me from the beginning.’



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