Saturday, October 28, 2006

Hey Jude


Today is the feast day of St. Jude, one of the original twelve disciples of Jesus.

Poor Jude has more names than any of the rest of the disciples: in the Gospel of Luke, he is called "Judas, the son of James"; in Mark and Matthew he is "Thaddeus" (or sometimes "Lebbaeus"); in John, he is "Judas not Iscariot." The Roman Catholic fathers seem to distrust the name "Thaddeus" for some reason, but hoping not to confuse him with the betrayer of Christ in the minds of their flock, they've given him the nickname "Jude" (thereby associating him with the author of the Letter of Jude in the New Testament, a warning against false teachings, and confusing him potentially with another 1st century St. Jude who was called the "brother of Jesus").

Who's kidding who? We really don't have a clue who this guy was.

In the Gospel of John, Jude is depicted asking Jesus, "Lord, how is it that you will manifest yourself to us [when you have departed], and not to the rest of the world?" Jesus' reply was practical, suggesting that he would manifest himself to those who would believe, and would not be seen to those who do not; but the question exhibits Jude's concern with Jesus' public image and potential power-base, which may be one reason among others why Jude is identified as having come from a family of "zealots" who sought to drive the Romans out of the Jewish world, like his co-disciple Simon the Zealot. Legend holds that Jude and Simon later did missionary work together in Persia and met their ends their as martyrs -- in particular, that Jude was clubbed to death and then beheaded.

In the 18th century, the French and the Germans began to honor St. Jude as the patron saint of lost causes, something that is now described in the novena to St. Jude as being a result of his having patiently born the name of Christ's betrayer for all those centuries; other commentators point out that since his name is similar to Judas Iscariot's, he would often be the last of the disciples to whom people would turn for comfort, thus becoming known as the disciple of "last resort." Perhaps he's been even more patient about the way we've muddled his identity all these years (even apart from the Iscariot issue), but that little academic mystery is probably a lost cause in and of itself.

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