Offered by Father Matthew Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Parish of Tazewell County on the Feast of Saint Simon and Saint Jude, 2018.
Simon and Jude were apostles and martyrs to Persia, the lands of modern-day Iran. Simon’s symbol is a book with a fish upon it, symbolizing a fisher of men through the power of the Gospel. Jude’s symbol is a ship with full sails, symbolizing an avid spreader of the Gospel over great distances. Besides that we know next to nothing about them, which in itself is a curious fact that I think has significance about which I will speak at the end.
Our Collect captures what is most important about them: that they were faithful and zealous in their mission. And we ask today their intercession that we may with ardent devotion make known to others in Tazewell County the love and mercy of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The Parish Council is discerning and developing a missionary plan to serve the lonely in Tazewell County, and having examples in our mind can inspire us and our efforts.
“Apostle” and “Martyr” are terms we often hear, but perhaps their fullest significance does not always come across. “Apostles” is the name we give to those who were sent by God to proclaim the Gospel, that through that proclamation, disciples of Jesus Christ might be born. Apostles as a term refers primarily to the Twelve. Of course Apostles also refers to Paul, along with several of his co-workers: Barnabas, Andronicus and Junia, Silas, Timothy, and Apollos. It is a venerable tradition in the Church that Mary Magdalene has been called apostle to the apostles, because she proclaimed the Resurrection to the Twelve. Likewise an early tradition names Blessed Mary as the Queen of the Apostles. And the Seventy disciples sent by Luke in pairs to go into towns and villages to proclaim the peace of Christ and His kingdom are called in some traditions the seventy apostles. Again, what is important about apostles is captured in our Collect: being faithful and zealous in their mission.
The term “martyr” often has the connotation of someone who died for their cause. That’s often how it went, so it is understandable that such a definition has creeped into the meaning of martyr. Of the Twelve Apostles, eleven of them, along with Paul, were put to death for their apostolic work; only John survived into old age. Yet the term martyr, before it means dying for one’s faith, means witnessing in public for one’s faith. A martyr is a person who is not a private Christian: a Christian at home or in one’s thoughts only, but show him or herself to be a Christian to others, to the society, and does not shrink back from public testimony of their belief in Jesus Christ. The idea is along the lines of, publicly testify to your belief in Jesus and let the cards fall where they may. All of the apostles I named earlier are remembered, celebrated, and prayed to because of their example to us of public witness of their zeal for Jesus.
For much of the time this liturgical year in the Sundays after Trinity, I have tried to point out that while men in the Gospel are central also, it is really women in the Gospel who are the best disciples. Throughout Saint Mark’s Gospel, it is women not men who best imitate Jesus in his teachings to watch, serve, and be living sacrifices, and I have pointed out that the roots of this are found through the Old Testament in the great women of the Scripture: Eve, Sarah, Judith, Esther, and more, all consummated in Our Lady, Mary the Mother of Jesus. It is the saintly disciples who are the best interpreters and teachers of the Bible, because they have embodied in the Gospel in their lives, their words and actions, as timeless demonstrations to us about how to be Christian. This whole way of thought is called by theologians the “theology of woman” and it is really a theology of discipleship.
It is worth beginning to think about its complement, that is, what a “theology of man,” meaning male, entails. Like such a theology of woman, the theology of man is an involved subject that demands a full treatment that cannot be easily summarized. So I will but introduce it here, and the way to do so again is to call to mind the Twelve Apostles, and even Simon and Jude.
Whereas in the theology of woman there is a demonstration of discipleship, in the theology of man there is involved the quality of being a transmitter, the sense of transmitting or passing on what has been received to others. This is captured by John the Baptist when he said of Jesus, “He must increase, but I must decrease.” As one’s relationship with Jesus increases, the person who initiated or first taught about the relationship fades into the background, even away entirely. We see this demonstrated palpably in the story of Moses, who led Israel for forty years to the cusp of glory, to the edge of the land of milk and honey. But he himself died before reaching the promised land. He decreased so that God and His plan would increase.
This is why it is so fitting that we know so little about Simon and Jude, but know about their efforts and fruits. This demonstrates an important fact about not only the Apostles but also about a theology of man: They are incomplete unto themselves, much like Adam was incomplete before Eve. And they are only made complete by grace when they pass away having transmitted to disciples the truth about God. Despite not knowing a whole lot about any of the Apostles, the Church has been steadfastly devoted to the Apostles’ teaching and fellowship. Not to the boasting about the Apostles, but so that they can decrease, that Christ our Lord increase into a burning, holy fire that consumes us all.
Images of the Shields of Saint Simon and Saint Jude taken from the Altar Wall at Saint Paul’s, Pekin.