We are nearing the end of our summer sermon series on the Twelve Apostles. Actually, there were thirteen apostles if you include, as we did, Matthias, who was named an apostle after the resurrection and ascension of Jesus. So our series on “The Dirty Dozen” is actually the dirty baker’s dozen.
Today we turn to one of the apostles named Judas, but not the Judas that immediately comes to mind when we hear that name. Judas Isacriot is forever known as the disciple who betrayed Jesus, and we will look at him next week. Today we look at another Judas. Luke identifies this Judas as “Judas son of James.” Matthew and Mark call him Thaddaeus, and some translations of Matthew identify him as Lebbaeus. John identifies him as Judas, but adds in parentheses “not Isacriot.”
Judas, in fact, was one of the more common names in that place and time, for it was simply the Greek form of Judah. The Latin form of the same name is Jude. Given the infamy associated with the name Judas because of Judas Iscariot, it is not surprising that anyone in the early church with that name would want to differentiate himself. St. Jerome, a priest and theologian of the 4th and 5th century, called this Judas Trionius, which literally means the man with three names. Some believe he is the same person who authored the Letter of Jude, which is the next to last book of the New Testament, but that is not at all clear. For one thing, the author of the Letter of Jude identifies himself as the brother of James rather than the son of James.
So it’s difficult to know much about the apostle Judas Thaddaeus. What is known is that he has become known down through history as the saint of last resort, or the patron saint of hopeless causes. The reason for this is the confusion between him and Judas Iscariot. It was a practice early on in the church for people to pray to the deceased apostles. Because Jude had the same name as Judas Iscariot, however, no one wanted to pray to him for fear they would be misunderstood. So people would only pray to Jude if their prayers to all the other apostles had gone unheeded.
I don’t know if there are people in the church with whom you don’t want to be associated, but there are for me. Not people in THIS church, mind you, but people in THE Church, with a capital “C.” I’m proud to be associated with everyone in this church. But there are people in the Church from whom I try to keep my distance. In the film Michael, John Travolta plays a somewhat slovenly, hard-drinking, combat-loving angel. When someone asks him why he doesn’t behave in a more “angelic” manner, he says simply, “I’m not that kind of angel.” Well, I’ve spent time over the course of my ministry in both Lynchburg and Virginia Beach, places where Christianity has be almost defined by Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson, respectively. When somebody talks to me about Jerry Falwell or Pat Robertson, I want to say, “I’m not that kind of Christian.” So I can understand the reluctance of people in the early church to be associated with Judas, and therefore to pray to St, Jude only as a last resort.
Incidentally, it was a prayer to St. Jude that was responsible for the founding of one of the best-known children’s hospitals in the country, St. Jude’s Research Hospital in Memphis. Early in his career, the entertainer Danny Thomas was torn between continuing in show business and spending more time with his family. He prayed to St. Jude for a sign, promising to build a shrine to the saint if he would show him the way in life. Of course, Danny Thomas went on to become one of the most popular entertainers of his time, and he kept his promise to St. Jude by founding a hospital where no child would be turned away.
The only time in the Gospels where Jude is mentioned more than as simply part of a list of the apostles is the section of John’s Gospel from which we read earlier. The setting is the Last Supper, and Jesus is preparing his disciples for his impending arrest and crucifixion. In John’s account, the most extensive of all the Gospels, the disciples ask a number of questions of Jesus. Among these is the question asked by Judas (not Iscariot): “Lord, why do you intend to show yourself to us and not the world?”
Good question. If Jesus was who he said he was (and in the same chapter of John’s Gospel he has already said “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father”), then why would he not prove it beyond the shadow of a doubt? Why would he show himself to some, such as the disciples, and not everyone? It’s a question we still have.
As he often does in gospel stories, Jesus does not answer the question directly. He says, "If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.” When Jude asks his question, Jesus is in the midst of telling his disciples that those who love him do not simply have an affectionate feeling for him or believe he is God’s Son, but they are those who do the things he does and lives the way he lives. So Jesus relates Jude’s question to the point he’s making. Namely, that those who follow and practice his teachings will be loved by the Father, and he adds, “we will come to him and make our home with him.” There are several implications to this statement Jesus makes, but I want to briefly mention two here.
A few years ago, I preached a series of sermon called Questions for God. That series was based on questions members of this congregation identified as questions you would like to ask God one day. One question submitted by several of you was, Why do I have faith and other’s don’t? This is Jude’s question: “Why do you show yourself to us and not the world?”
At that time, I told an old story that comes from the days of the Blitz in London during WWII. A father, holding his small son by the hand, ran from a building that had been hit by a bomb. The father jumped into a shell hole in the front yard seeking what shelter he could find from the still-falling bombs. He held up his arms for his son to jump in after him. The dust and smoke, however, obscured him from his son’s view, and the little boy said, “I can’t see you!” The father said, “But I can see you – jump!”
One of the implications of Jesus’ response to James is that whether or not the world sees Jesus, he sees us, and therefore we can trust him. Whether or not we have faith in him, he has faith in us. And it is his faith in us, far more than ours in him, that enables us to place our lives in his hands, to do what he did and live as he lived.
The second implication of his response to Jude is that Jude and the other disciples – and, by extension, we, as modern-day disciples – are his last resort. That is, if the world is going to get to know Jesus it will be up to us. This past February there was a terrible bus accident in Atlanta, Ga. A bus carrying the baseball team from Bluffton University in Ohio was headed through Atlanta on its way to Florida for a tournament. The driver for some reason mistook an exit ramp for the expressway and went up the ramp at Highway speed, across the overpass, and over the railing back onto the road. Seven people, including the driver, were killed in the accident.
The president of Bluffton University, in the aftermath of this tragedy, spoke of "seeing the hand of God in the people of Atlanta." In such a terrible tragedy to his university, he saw the goodness and grace of God at work in the response of the emergency and medical personnel, as well as those in the community of Atlanta. Through them, their actions and their concern, the president of Bluffton University saw the hand of God. Jesus is making the same point to Jude: if the world is to see him, it will be up to us.
Yes, there are people in the Church with whom I’d just as soon not be associated. But the reason I am in the Church, and the reason I have faith, is because of the many Judes I have known who, by their actions and by their lives, have enabled me to see Jesus. Thank God for such people. And by God’s grace, may we all be such people for others.