Who are Simon and Jude?

Why, you may justifiably ask, should the feast of Sts Simon and Jude remind me of a very popular children’s show from the mid 1950s until the 1980s called Crackerjack!?

I remember watching Crackerjack hosted early on by Eamonn Andrews on black and white tv with my sister and we especially enjoyed a game which was a quiz called "Double or Drop". In this game each of three contestants was given a prize to hold for each question answered correctly but given a cabbage if they were wrong. They were out of the game if they dropped any of the items awarded or received a third cabbage.

Still no idea? I’m not surprised.

Well, I was a bit hazy about Sts Simon and Jude so I turned to a book on saints that I have for some clarification. Here it said that St Jude, also known as Thaddaeus, is depicted in stained glass windows and other iconography as a bearded man, holding an oar, a boat, a boat hook or a club – and a book ----- and perhaps a cabbage as well, I thought, as the link came into my mind?!!

The tradition is that St Jude preached in Mesopotamia (modern Iraq) and afterwards, together with St Simon, in Persia (modern Iran) where he was martyred. Jude is the patron of difficult or lost causes. St Simon allegedly succeeded James as the leader of the church in Jerusalem and was thought to have been crucified in extreme old age during the reign of the emperor Trajan. He is represented crucified or as a child carrying a fish or as a man carrying a saw. Simon has the word zealot or Cananean attached to him both of which indicate that he had strong beliefs to do with Judaism or freedom fighting.

Matthew names them as Jesus’ brothers along with James and Joseph. (Matthew 13.55) and they are mentioned next to each other towards the end of the list of the twelve chosen apostles in Matthew, Mark and Luke. In the Acts of the Apostles ch 15.32 a Judas is referred to as a prophet along with Silas but this is probably another Judas whose father was Abbas.

It seems a pity that we know so little for certain about these two apostles but the early church was interested not so much in individuals as in community and cohesion and adherence to the truth. The letter attributed to St Jude is concerned with precisely these things. Our readings today also invite us to cling to the truth of the gospel for the building up of the church. Tradition holds that Sts Simon and Jude clung to the truth of the gospel throughout their lives despite persecution.

You can’t get anything much firmer and longer lasting than stone as a building material. We can trust it to last for centuries. In the very worrying political landscape of the Old Testament prophet Isaiah, when the country was threatened with invasion by Assyria and the Scythian hordes, Isaiah condemns the smooth talking wheeler dealing of the politicians who claim they can make treaties with death itself and all will be well and he bids them to continue to put their faith in God who is laying a strong foundation stone of righteousness and justice in the Temple in Jerusalem.

Later, verses such as these were seen as referring to Jesus himself who is the bedrock and cornerstone of our faith. It was immensely important in the early church for Gentiles and Jews to be incorporated into the new faith in a way that made them equal. This is what the passage from the letter to the Ephesians is all about. Addressing the Gentiles the writer wants to reassure them once and for all that they are fellow citizens together with the Jews and equal members of the family of God. The foundation of their faith is the apostles and new testament prophets like St Simon and St Jude, not necessarily well known but keeping the faith like a rock. Jesus himself is seen as the foundational cornerstone or perhaps the keystone that holds together the entrance arch of this spiritual temple that is the church, which is still in the process of being formed.

In today’s gospel Jesus warns his followers that if they follow him who is the Way, the Truth and the Life they are likely to come face to face with persecution in one form or another because the persecutors do not know God the Father who sent Jesus. By turning against Jesus they are also turning their backs on God the Father because since they have seen the works and heard the teachings of Jesus they have no excuse. In St Jude’s own letter he says ‘It is these worldly people, devoid of the Spirit, who are causing divisions. But you, beloved, build yourselves up on your most holy faith.’

The Holy Spirit is here, at the end of the gospel passage, referred to as the Advocate or helper in a court of law. He witnesses to the Truth of Jesus but Jesus also needs the witness of his followers and he needs them to love one another, to create a cohesive bond which will enable the spiritual dwelling place where God dwells to remain firm and strong.

Let us return to Crackerjack! for a moment. Imagine that the contestants stand for people in the world who compete with one another throughout life. They either do well in life receiving gifts and material benefits that they cling on to or else they do badly making many wrong decisions or actions. In this case they are burdened by the cabbages of guilt and sin. Most of us are a mixture of the two and life is a bit of a burden. Now imagine that people no longer feel the need to play this game, that they are free to drop everything, be themselves, and love one another because Jesus has shown us how. Because Jesus died on the cross we can drop the lot, the guilt of our sins and the false pride of our competitive successes. We can then work together to build a new eternal life, sharing in the bond of love, helped by the Holy Spirit and having Jesus as the cornerstone of our faith.

We are very like St Simon and St Jude because we are not specially well known. We can easily be mistaken for other people like us but of course we are actually unique occupying a particular place in the family of God, a particular stone in the spiritual structure that is the church so, like them, as apostles and prophets in the 21st century, let us let go the game of life and let God guide us, so that we may carry on clinging to the truth of the gospel as they did, not just while it suits us, but till the end of our lives, come what may.