Collect for Saints Simon and Jude
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 your Son our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Old Testament lesson:
Isaiah 28, Vv 14-16
Ephesians 2, Vv 19-22
St John 15, Vv 17-27
Today is the feast day of Saint Simon and Saint Jude. Little is known of either of these saints apart from the fact that they were called by Jesus to be among his band of disciples and were later named as Apostles, as we read, for example, in the sixth chapter of Saint Luke’s gospel. There were, of course, two Simons – the first defined as, ‘he whom he named Peter’ and Simon who was called the Zealot.
Let us spend a minute or two looking first at Saint Simon. Simon was a simple Galilean, a brother of Jesus, as the ancients called close relatives, including uncles and first cousins. He was one of the Saviour’s four first cousins, with James, Jude and Joseph. These were all sons of Mary, the wife of Alpheus, or Cleophas, both names being a derivative of the Aramaic Chalphai. According to tradition Cleophas was the brother of Saint Joseph, Jesus earthly father. All the sons of this family were raised at Nazareth, close neighbours of the Holy Family. In the 13th chapter of Saint Matthew’s Gospel we read of the consternation of the local populace when Jesus returned to his home town to preach in the Synagogue – ‘Where did this man get this wisdom and these deeds of power? Are not his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas?’ Simon’s brother James is sometimes known as James the Less to distinguish him from James, the brother of John, the two sons of Zebedee. All were called by Our Lord to be Apostles: pillars of his Church. Saint Mark tells us that Simon was born in Cana, the place, according to Saint John, of Jesus’ first miracle. Some traditions identify Simon as the bridegroom at that wedding and suggest that he became a disciple as a direct response to witnessing that miracle, a miracle that was, after all, performed, at the request of Mary, to get the newly-weds out of a somewhat embarrassing predicament.
Saint Simon is not mentioned anywhere in the New Testament except in lists of the Apostles’ names. Some modern writers have used his surname as the basis for conjectures associating him, and through him Jesus and all his original followers, with the Zealot movement. This was a Jewish independence crusade devoted to assassination and violent insurrection, mostly aimed at members of the Roman occupation force. From what we know of Our Lord’s teaching – that we should love one another; that we should love our enemies and bless them that persecute us; that we should turn the other cheek – this all seems very unlikely. Also, there were many movements that were called Zealot and they were not all alike. Flavius Josephus tells us in Book Four of his Jewish War that this latter Zealot movement did not come into prominence until shortly before the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem in AD70. Simon the Zealot or the Zealous, was, then, the name this Apostle bore among the twelve.
Tradition has it that Saint Simon preached in Mauretania (an area which approximated to present day north-west Africa and southern Spain), in Egypt and in Libya, leaving behind him the fertile hills of Galilee, where he had been engaged in cultivation of the vineyards and olive gardens. He later rejoined his brother Jude in Persia (modern day Iran) where they laboured and died together, probably martyred, hence the change to a red altar frontal in their honour on this their feast day. At first the Persian king respected them, for they had manifested power over two ferocious tigers that had terrorised the land. With their king, sixty thousand Persians became Christians, and churches rose over the ruins of the idolatrous temples. However, when they visited other parts of the Persian kingdom unconverted, pagan hordes commanded them to offer sacrifices to the Sun god. They prayed for mercy and offered their lives to the living God but the idolaters fell on the two Apostles and massacred them, while they blessed God and prayed for their murders. Or so tradition has it.
What, then, do we know of Judas? Judas (often called Jude in English, but his Greek name is Judas) has a variety of other names, but this is not surprising. He is called Lebbaeus in Matthew chapter ten and Thaddaeus in Mark chapter three. Before the Crucifixion, there would have been a need to distinguish him among the Apostles from Judas Iscariot. After the Crucifixion there would have been all the more reason for being emphatic about that distinction. ‘Thaddaeus’ is possibly a variant of ‘Theudas,’ which in turn is, perhaps, a Greek equivalent of ‘Judas’. In Aramaic ‘thad’ means ‘chest,’ so we may suppose that Judas received the nickname ‘Thaddeus’ as a result of being a brawny, well-built man. ‘Lebbaeus,’ according to Young's Concordance, means ‘man of heart,’ and so that may be a variant of ‘Thaddaeus,’ but here we enter the realms of conjecture. We should note that there are no strict etymological or linguistic connections between the names Judas, Theudas, Thaddaeus and Lebbaeus. The names were considered in those days to be vaguely equivalent, as today the names Margaret and Peggy, or Richard and Dick, or Edward, Ed, Ted, and Ned, are considered to be equivalent.
If you delve in the pages at the end of your Bibles you will find that the penultimate book is The Epistle of Jude. Not a massive work, it has but one chapter containing just 25 verses. It warns against corrupt influences that have crept into the church. It has some obscure and baffling references to old Jewish traditions, but it includes a memorable exhortation to, ‘contend for the faith once for all entrusted to the saints,’ and an even more wonderful closing passage that is well worth reading for its own sake. In this epistle Jude indicates that he has had to break off from writing another letter, of which nothing today is known, to pen his indictment of some members of the church for which he had responsibility. The trouble appears to be the problems later seen in the Gnostics movement – an understanding that that morals have nothing at all to do with religion. Here is a church leader who is passionate about the purity of the faith and the good name of the Christian communities in his care. Unscrupulous propagandists are obviously threatening both and Jude does not mince his words. In his vituperation he reminds his readers of the fate that befell evildoers in the past – the Israelites at the time of the Exodus whose sins were punished by death, as told us in the book called Numbers; of the angels who fell from grace and who were cast into the abyss there to await in chains until the day of Judgement and the citizens of Sodom and Gomorrah who suffered the fire of the Lord’s vengeance.
Jude is often and popularly referred to as the patron saint of desperate or lost causes, the one who is asked for help when all else fails. Some explanation of this may prove useful. Since his name often reminds hearers of Judas Iscariot, there is a tendency for someone asking a Christian brother, now with the Lord, for intercessory prayers to try one of the other Apostles first. Hence, Jude has come to be called ‘the saint of last resort’, the one whom we ask only when desperate, or having, perhaps, tried all the others.
What, then, can we in today’s world learn from the lives of these two relatively unknown Apostles? There are five main points I want us to think about. First, they, like the rest of the twelve, ‘forsook all and followed him’. Can we be accused of doing that? Could we, and should we, give up some of our modern comforts and privileges and live our lives more like the master? Secondly, if tradition is to be believed, Saint Simon was the recipient of Jesus’ first miracle. We should be reminded that, even two thousand years later, miracles still happen. We must always be aware that the Holy Spirit is at work in the world and he does not always do things the way we would have him do them. We must be careful not to so cocoon ourselves in the world’s natural order that we fail to recognise the supernatural when it happens. Saint Simon certainly recognised the miracle that came to his nuptial aid! Thirdly, judging by the tenor of his epistle, Saint Jude proved to be an arch-supporter of gospel truths. His vitriolic execration of those who deviated from the truths given by Our Lord knew no bounds. So, are we passionate enough about the tenets and doctrines of our faith? Do we hold fast to the creedal affirmations of the Church? Are we able to walk that narrow path between unchanging absolutism and dogma, on the one hand, and the need for a flexibility to absorb revised interpretations and accept new ideas, on the other, without losing our way or our faith? Fourthly, both of our saints are happy to intercede for us at the throne of grace. Simon is sometimes known as the patron saint of tanners, leather workers, while, as we have seen, Jude is often asked to help when all else fails. Let us not forget them in our prayers, and not just on this their joint feast day. Fifthly, and finally, both of our saints spent their lives preaching the gospel to a pagan world and it is believed that each died a martyr’s death for his faith. We hope that no such life threatening demands are put upon us but we may be called to make other sacrifices. Are we ready to suffer for the sake of Jesus Christ?
Let us, then, thank God for the lives of his Apostles Saint Simon and Saint Jude. Let us continue to remember Saint Simon for his zealousness in his adherence to the faith of his master and Saint Jude for his noteworthy epistle and for his intercessions when our causes seem all but lost. Let us thank God for their lives spent in preaching the Gospel and for their martyrdom for their faith in the crucified and risen Christ.
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