Dear friends in Christ, grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Throughout the summer, I have been preaching on the lessons and the legends of Jesus’ 12 disciples and those who were sent by the early church to proclaim the good news. As important as the disciples were, there are few churchgoers today who know their names much less know their stories. Thus far, we have meditated on Jesus’ first two disciples, Andrew, and his brother Simon-Peter, as well as two overlooked disciples, Philip and James the Less. We have reflected on the most misunderstood disciple, Thomas the Twin, and another who is simply known by his last name Bartholomew. We have turned to another set of brothers and fishermen. John, was longest living apostle who died in old age, while his brother James the Elder, was the first of Jesus’ chosen 12 to become a martyr. Last week, we considered the most unlikely of ancient professionals to follow Jesus, a tax collector named Matthew. Today, we turn to the final two disciples who would go on to be the apostles, St. Simon and St. Jude. Regrettably, they are always remembered last.
Leonard Bernstein, the late conductor of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, was once asked to name the most difficult instrument to play. Without hesitation, he replied: “The second fiddle. I can get plenty of first violinists, but to find someone who can play the second fiddle with enthusiasm – that’s a problem; and if we have no second fiddle, we have no harmony.” No one ever wants to be the second best and play the second part”
Among Jesus’ 12 disciples, there were actually two named Simon, two named James and, two named Judas. Our apostles today Simon the Zealot and Judas Thaddeus were always known as Simon and Judas number two. The first Simon and Judas were illustrious and notorious. Simon Peter was chief among the twelve and Judas Iscariot was the one who betrayed Jesus.
Simon, Number Two, the Zealot is one of the most obscure apostles. He plays no particular role in the gospels and is only mentioned by name in the lists of the apostles. There is, however, a lovely legend of Simon’s childhood and his call in the apocryphal Arabic Infancy Gospel. As a boy he was bitten by a snake in his hand; he was healed by Jesus, who told him, “you shall be my disciple.” The story ends with the phrase “this is Simon the Cananite, of whom mention is made in the Gospel.”
Regretfully, even Simons’ nicknames, the Cananite and “the Zealot” can be ambiguous. The title the Zealot found in the Gospel of Luke and Acts may have meant that he belonged to a Jewish sect known as the Zealots, who were focused on revolution and waiting for a Messiah to violently overthrow Rome. If Simon was truly a Zealot, then there certainly would have been tension among Jesus’ chosen Twelve. Matthew the tax collector for the Romans would have been diametrically opposed to the ways and ideology of the Zealots.
The evangelists Matthew and Mark, however, refer to him as Simon the Cananite or Simon the Cananaean. They assumed that he was from Cana—a town within Galilee—or possibly the former region called Canaan. This name led some Orthodox churches to assume that Simon was the unnamed groom at the wedding of Cana where Jesus turned the water into wine. Because of that miracle, Simon left his home, parents and bride to follow Christ. Others have suggested that he was one of Jesus’ own brothers mentioned in scripture, or perhaps a cousin, who went on to write the epistle of Jude. Interestingly, “kananaios” which most scholars believe comes from the Aramaic word qan’an, means “zealous one.” So perhaps, Simon was actually being portrayed as being zealous for the Mosaic Law. Or zealous for Jesus and his teachings.
As an apostle sent by Jesus, Simon travelled extensively to spread the gospel. The Golden Legend records that Simon preached in Egypt, then partnered with Judas, not Iscariot, in Mesopotamia and in Pontus, and from there to Persia. Oddly, for as many destinations as Simon travelled, there are an equal number of accounts of his death. Moses of Chorene wrote that Simon was martyred in the Kingdom of Iberia, modern day Georgia. There is still today a cave in Abkhazia where he lived and prayed and was martyred. His body was buried there where a cathedral in his honor stands. For this reason, he is referred to as the Apostle of Georgia.
Others believe that after preaching in Egypt, Simon joined Jude in Persia, Armenia, and Lebanon where both were martyred in 65 AD. There, Simon was sawn in half while his companion Jude was killed with an ax. Ethiopian Christians believe Simon was crucified in Samaria. Their relics were later transferred to St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. There is yet another account that says that Simon was crucified in Great Britain. According to Hippolytus of Rome, Simon’s travelled to in 44 AD during the Roman conquest. He visited again during the first year of Boadicea’s rebellion and was arrested and crucified on May 10, 61 AD by the Roman Procurator Catus Decianus, at Caistor, modern-day Lincolnshire.
Judas Thaddeus has an equally complicated story, but with one major difference- his name. The use of the name Judas is so completely overshadowed by the legacy of Judas Iscariot, that the gospel writers tried to avoid using his name altogether. While there are four lists of the Twelve apostles in the Bible, only two of them include Judas or Jude, depending on the translation. In the gospel of Luke and in the Acts of the Apostles, the evangelist refers to him as Judas son of James. The lists of disciples we find in gospel of Matthew and Mark, however, don’t include Jude at all. Instead, we find a disciple named Thaddeus meaning “courageous heart.” This is why Jude is sometimes referred to as Jude Thaddeus or Judas Thaddeus.
After Jesus’ ascension, Jude too was sent forth to spread the gospel. The Golden Legend records that he started preaching in Mesopotamia, and later partnered with Simon the Zealot. There is a strong tradition that he travelled with the apostle Bartholomew to Armenia. Even though St. Gregory the Illuminator is celebrated as the patron saint of Armenia, the historic Saint Thaddeus Monastery, now in northern Iran, and the Saint Bartholomew Monastery, in southeastern Turkey, were both constructed at the time when the territory was Armenia.
Perhaps the most unusual and interesting legend associated with Jude is his connection to a mysterious cloth bearing the image of Christ. According to tradition, King Abgar of Edessa wrote a letter to Jesus asking him to cure him of his leprosy. Knowing that his own death and resurrection were imminent, Jesus sent a letter to the King declining the invitation, but promising a future visit by one of his apostles who turned out to be Jude Thaddeus. Eusebius of Caesarea writing in the 300s, recounts the story and claims that the original letters were still preserved in the city of Edessa at that time. Judas Thaddeus appeared at the King’s palace in Edessa after Jesus’ death and resurrection with a cloth of Christ’s face upon it. It was said to the painted without hands. Later versions of the legend state that it was indeed Christ’ own burial shroud folded in half and then again fourfold. Oddly enough, the Holy Shroud of Turin has the exact same fourfold pattern, revealing just the face of Christ. This miraculous shroud was given to the King of Edessa along with the letter of Christ who was immediately healed of leprosy. The letters and Holy Shroud were kept as prized treasures for hundreds of years in Edessa until they were transferred to Constantinople, the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire of Byzantium. Tragically in 1204, Crusaders from Western Europe launched a campaign in which they looted, pillaged, and vandalized Constantinople for three days, during which many ancient and medieval Roman and Greek works and relics were either destroyed or seized and brought back to Europe. The legendary shroud of Edessa disappeared. 150 years later, however, a miraculous shroud painted without hands reappeared in France. Was the Shroud of Turin the legendary shroud given to King Abgar? Perhaps, this cloth is the tie to St. Jude and healing.
Still, in spite of Jude’s miraculous work in the East, faithful believers in the West were afraid to pray to St. Jude. In time, Jude became the “patron saint of hopeless causes,” stemming from the belief that few Christians invoked his name in fear they would be to Christ’s betrayer, Judas Iscariot. The ignored Jude thus supposedly became quite eager to assist anyone who sought his help, to the point of interceding in the most dire of circumstances.
So what do these stories of Simon and Jude teach us? Certainly, they witness to the perseverance of the apostles in their mission. Like the majority of the twelve, they endured much hardship and ultimately suffered brutal deaths. In spite of it all, they were committed to he promise of Christ’s resurrection. Indeed, they would willingly forfeit their own lives for the sake of life eternal. But perhaps most importantly, they teach us how to play the most difficult instrument, “second fiddle” day after day. There is no shortage of musicians willing to play the flashy, principal solo parts. The challenge is to find musicians content to play in the second chair.
My friends, audiences do not rush to standing room only concert halls to hear the second-fiddle play. Most opportunities to hear the second fiddle occur on simple occasions. You hear it when players put the joy of faith and the promise of salvation ahead of their needs to be seen and recognized. That is how the Simon and Jude, the most obscure and overlooked apostles chose to live their lives- and they were fully blessed along the way. That is the men and women who call themselves Jesus’ followers and play in God’s great orchestra must live life as well.
Bernstein was right. So, why is the second fiddle so important to music? Simply said, the solo part often seems empty and lonely without the accompaniment of other voices. But when the second fiddle part is played well, it makes all the difference in richer harmony and beauty. Amen.
May the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.