If you can’t remember anything in particular about St. Simon and St. Jude, neither apparently do the Gospel writers. They simply mention these names among the Twelve. It doesn’t help that they are among the six who share names—the two Simons, the two Jameses, and (in Luke’s listing) the two Judases (with one usually discretely rendered in the form Jude).
The Simon whom Jesus nicknamed Peter (“Rock”), of course, we know quite well. The Simon celebrated today happens to have his own nickname—“the Zealot” or “the Cananean” (which seems to come from an Aramaic term meaning “enthusiast, or zealot”). Commentators used to think his nickname meant he was a former member of the anti-Roman revolutionary group called the Zealots, but since historians are now convinced that those Zealots did not emerge until some 36 years after Jesus’ crucifixion, the label must mean something else. Maybe he earned that moniker because of his personal enthusiasm, much as James and John were no doubt called “Sons of thunder” for some personal qualities (hot temper?). But apart from that nickname, “the Zealot,” we have no further data.
As for St. Jude, named only in Luke’s lists (in the Third Gospel and Acts, turning up where Thaddeus appears in Mark and Matthew), his name is the same as that of the famous betrayer of the Lord, Judas. Most translators have called him Jude, though, probably to ensure that he is not confused with the “bad apple” of the original dozen. His father was one Jacob, but apart from that, the Evangelists tell us nothing. Popular piety has sometimes identified him with “the brother of the Lord” and the author of the Epistle of Jude, but scholarship does not support this blending of what the biblical texts imply are separate persons (much as we now treat as four distinct women what popular tradition had long blended into one person called Mary Magdalene). Christian tradition and piety has made him the patron of desperate situations.
It is enough that this Simon and this Jude were among the inner Twelve. That is a helpful reminder the forgotten people—such as you and I may one day become in distant posthumous years—can be profoundly important in the secret history of God’s people. Simon and Jude were among those early disciples that the Gospel writers, especially Mark, could portray as notably deaf and blind to their Master’s teaching, and still, after the grace of the Resurrection and Pentecost could turn out to be powerful instruments of the Lord’s preaching and healing mission. Peter’s transformation, from an impetuous but doubt-ridden man to a powerful leader, is carefully documented by the Synoptic authors; but Simon and Jude must have gone through a similar transformation even though the Gospel writers pass over them in relative silence.
The best tribute to them may be the words of today’s first reading. The Letter to the Ephesians addresses the readers, including of course us, as fellow citizens with the holy ones and members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the capstone. That means that we share a communion with Simon and Jude that is as intimate and life-giving as that of any earthly family, what Paul elsewhere dares to call “the body of Christ.” The letter continues: Through him the whole structure is held together and grows into a temple sacred in the Lord; in him you also are being built together into a dwelling place of God in the Spirit. We usually—and rightly—hear those words as a description of our local parish community, or maybe even the worldwide church on earth. But this letter reminds us that that is just the “tip of the iceberg”—that we belong to a living, growing communion of saints that includes the likes of Simon and Jude, who, with the grace of the Risen Lord, helped get this whole thing started and still collaborate in the continued growth of this household. Let us stand up and move forward, confident in that support.
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