Saint Simon and Saint Jude, Apostles


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(October 28) 

O almighty God, who has built Thy church upon the foundation of the Apostles…
Jude 1
John 15:17-27

Lists of the twelve Apostles (Matthew 10:2-4; Mark 3:16-19; Luke 6:14-16; Acts 1:13) place Simon “The Zealot” (Or “Canaan”) tenth and Judas (of James, Thaddaeus or Lebbaeus) eleventh. Simon is not mentioned otherwise by name in the New Testament. In order to establish a degree of consistency between the apostolic lists and to render the number twelve real rather than symbolic, Jude has been conflated with Thaddaeus and Lebbaeus. Most scholars agree that he is not the author of the letter of his name nor is he “The brother of Jesus” (Mark 6:3; Matthew 13:55-57). Tradition says they were martyred together in Persia.

The Gospel, taken from Jesus’ great discourse before his arrest, combines a re-statement of the Trinity with a warning that those who bear witness to it will make worldly enemies and suffer for their faithfulness. The first chapter of Jude warns against infiltration into the church by wicked people trying to undermine its message; they are likened to the wicked citizens of Sodom and Gomorrah, the heartless Pharaoh who treated the Chosen People cruelly, and to the rebellious angels (cf Saint Michael and All Angels), balancing this with a promise to those who are faithful. The early church (cf 1 Corinthians 12) was so overwhelmed with the power of The Spirit, manifested in such forms as the gift of tongues, that it must have been difficult to distinguish between the highly charismatic and the plain wicked. This is a warning against egotism and excess but, equally, we must take care that we do not exclude those with gifts that do not accord with prevailing fashions, our own preferences or those which threaten the status quo. We are apt to be more suspicious of under-regulation than over-regulation. We are also in danger of relying on regulation and monitoring rather than building trust. The Gospel begins with the exhortation that we should love one another but, except in the case of children, it is not usual to manifest love through regulation.

We are reminded in the Collect of the need for sound doctrine and this in itself can lead to over scrupulous disputes but set in the context of an established church with a state ordained legal framework the danger is greater still. This is not to deny the importance of doctrine—the emphasis by Jesus on the roles of the different attributes in the Trinitarian economy is eloquent on the point—but we need to be able to distinguish between what is essential and what is a matter of individual conscience. Not unrelated is Jude’s tendency—echoing Paul—to exclude rather than absorb sinners. In contrast with Jesus’ injunction that our forgiveness should be unlimited (Matthew 18:21-22) the implication in later writing is that adherents will only have one or two chances. The issues of trust and sinfulness are closely related because regulation and stricture are not respectively suitable. If we trust that God will favour the righteous then, out of love, we should trust each other; and as we are all sinners, depending on god for our salvation, we should have a better capacity to live alongside and communicate with the egregious sinner. In seeking to make distinctions for better order, we are forced to define those we can trust and those whose sins we can tolerate.

The commandment of love has not been abridged and neither has the presence of the Holy Spirit been withdrawn from us. We might think that the kind of people Jude feared were rather obvious subverters and that we are well defended against them; but he thought his opponents were rather subtle; as are ours. In adopting secular methods to analyse our plight and our strategy for dealing with it we might be in danger of falling prey to those who threaten us. We know a murderer, an adulterer and a blasphemer when we see one but we are apt to be less suspicious of the bureaucrat, the regulator and the tribunal. Sometimes our allegiance to secular liberalism lulls us into compromises we should not make. Christians have colluded with the secular state in framing a ‘just war’ policy (for Constantine), perpetuating slavery (until the early 19th Century) and sanctioning gross inequalities of income and wealth (more recently on the basis that these are less harmful than Marxism). Yet these are rather obvious shortcomings compared with the self satisfied preservation of the status quo and the transfer to the secular state of our obligation to serve.

Although the reasons for it are obscure, Saint Jude is the patron of desperate causes; he is our last intercessory resource. We might remember this when we consider the place of the Church in society. We do not exist to collude nor to congratulate. We are incarnational and prophetic and that means living out our witness in a hostile world. Jesus pointed this out to his followers and we should not forget it now. In spite of gaps in our knowledge we can safely conclude that most of those listening to Jesus on the last evening of his life gave their lives for him. We will almost certainly be asked to do much less; we should not grudge what pain we are called upon to suffer for his sake, not least because we are assured that our suffering will not be in vain.

Starting Points for Sermons and Discussions:

  1. Consider the three antitheses in Jude between: the cities of the plain and Abraham’s family; Pharaoh and Moses; and the good and wicked angels
  2. If we cannot imagine dying for a doctrine, why are we so tenacious in arguing about doctrine?
  3. Is the Spirit’s manifestation in the gift of tongues a special gift for a special time or should we be alive to it now?
  4. What are the particular perils of being an established church?
  5. Is there any such thing as a lost cause?

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