Dear Jude,"Now she conceived again and bore a son, and said, 'Now I will give thanks to the Lord.' Therefore she called his name Judah." (Genesis 29:35, Orthodox Study Bible).
Today is your first nameday, the day we remember your namesake whose feast the Church in the West celebrates every year on this day.* And so, I am writing to tell you all about your name.
We named you Jude, which is another form of the name Judah derived from the Hebrew word for praise or thanksgiving. There are at least three men with a version of the Judah/Judas/Jude name mentioned in the Bible and they all have something to teach us.
The first is Judah, Jacob and Leah's fourth son named in the quotation above. Judah is the brother who convinced the others to sell Joseph the dreamer into bondage rather than kill him (Gen. 37:26-27). Later he repented of the treachery entirely and offered to give himself over to slavery in exchange for Joseph's beloved brother Benjamin. In the intervening years, Judah was not very lady-wise (Tamar!), but, as the Bard has said, all's well that ends well!
And so it was Judah, the fourth son, who received the patriarchal blessing from Jacob who bypassed the older three because of their iniquities. In this way, Judah became predominant among the twelve tribes of Israel; from his tribe came the Lion, the Root of David, who prevails and overcomes (Rev. 5:5).
"Judah, you are he whom your brothers shall praise; [. . . ] The scepter shall not depart from Judah, Nor a lawgiver from his loins, Until Shiloh comes; And to Him shall be the expectation of the nations" (Gen. 49:8a, 10)
In the New Testament, beside Judas Iscariot, the betrayer, we find Jude Thaddaeus, the faithful disciple and apostle, and we find the epistle of Jude.
The Jude who authored the New Testament book bearing his name is the brother of James the Just (v.1), who in turn authored the epistle of James and presided at the first ecumenical council in Acts 15:13. (James the Just is not to be confused with James the son of Zebedee). James and Jude are both called "brothers" of our Lord Jesus as they were his kinsmen, usually thought to be legal cousins through Joseph.
In his epistle, Saint Jude the brother of Christ, exhorts his readers "to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints" (v. 3b) and to reject the heretical teachers who had "crept in" to the Church and become hidden reefs "in your love feasts" (v.12). While his brief letter is hotly polemical, Jude's advice to the faithful is not to confront the false teachers with strong words or deeds but rather to "remember the words which were spoken before by the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ," to "build yourselves up on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit" and to "Keep yourselves in the love of God" (v. 20, 21). Love and obedience to God as truly revealed in Christ and his apostles is Saint Jude's prescription against falsehood and his road map for salvation.
While both western and eastern liturgical traditions celebrate the Apostle Jude and Jude, the author of the last general epistle, as one and the same person, biblical scholars point to textual evidence suggesting they were really two separate individuals (see Jude v. 17).
Very little is known of Saint Jude the Apostle, but we are given a small glimpse of him in the Gospel story itself. We find it in the heart of Saint John's Gospel, in the extended telling of the Last Supper communion of Jesus and his disciples in the upper room.
In this last Passover feast before his passion, Jesus, in a most corporeal and intimate way, gives himself to "His own who were in the world," whom "having loved [. . .] He loved them to the end" (John 13:1). Christ, the pre-eternal Word of God, washes his disciples' feet, gives them his own body and blood in the appearance of bread and wine, and reclines with them at the table disclosing the very heart of God to them in the inaugural mystical and eucharistic "love feast." And so it is, as during the pillow talk of this intimate exchange, that Saint Jude's voice is heard in conversation with his Lord:
At this pre-passion point in the story, Saint Jude, along with all the other disciples, surely expected Christ to establish an earthly messianic kingdom. Here we see Jude asking how Christ could fail to manifest himself to the world in such a case. Perhaps he also wondered why Christ would withhold his salvation and glory from some while giving it to others."Whoever hears my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him."Then Judas (not Judas Iscariot) said, "But, Lord, why do you intend to show yourself to us and not to the world?"Jesus replied, "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. He who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me." (John 14:21-24)
Jude, my son, these are questions with which you, too, may struggle from time to time. I know I do. It is easy to want Christ to change our outward circumstances, to meet our "felt needs," to improve our earthly situation. It is also easy to struggle with the evil and desolation we see in the world and desire everyone to see and know the intimate love of Christ which we experience in communion with Him. How could God exclude any or allow any to be lost?
When we read John's narrative, it seems on one level as if Christ ignores Jude's question. Yet, we see in the both the repetition and differentiation of His reply the simple but profound answer: Christ's kingdom is not of this world; it is established in the interior castle, that is, in every believer's heart who individually chooses to love and obey the Savior.
Without doubt God "desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth" (1 Tim 2:4). It is equally sure that He does not demand our love without first giving us His; "We love, because He first loved us" (1 John 4:19). Christ demonstrates this chronology by first washing the disciples' feet and breaking bread with them. Then He spells out the relationship of His love to ours in His "new commandment" to love "as I have loved you" (John 14:11). It is this new commandment that is foremost when Christ urges his disciples to demonstrate their love for Him through obedience.
While there is a hard lesson is Christ's response to Saint Jude, namely, that not everyone will accept Christ's love nor choose to love and obey Him in return, the real revelation here is that the Father, Himself, will "come to him" who receives Christ, and the triune Godhead will "make our home with him." Many do not comprehend or receive the Light that shines in darkness, but for those who receive the Light, they themselves become the very abode of God.
Saint Jude understood and embodied Christ's response to his Last Supper question. Pious tradition tells us that Saint Jude went, along with Saint Simon, another of the twelve, to preach the gospel in Mesopotamia, Arabia, Idumea, and Syria, and that Jude was martyred in Beirut around 80 A.D.
Saint Jude so opened himself to the indwelling love of God that, incarnating Christ's Messianic Kingdom, he poured himself out in love and obedience to his Savior proclaiming Light to those in darkness, seeking the salvation of all.
This is your namesake, my son. And this is my prayer for you today as we remember and honor your patron, Saint Jude:
I pray that you, like Saint Jude the Apostle, will so open yourself to the inebriating love of God that you, too, embodying Christ's Kingdom, will pour yourself out in love and obedience to our Lord, sacrificially serving others and tirelessly witnessing to Christ's grace and truth.
I pray that, like Saint Jude the brother of our Lord, you will "contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints [. . .] praying in the Holy Spirit" and "keeping yourself in the love of God."
I pray also that, like Judah the patriarch, you shall make repentance your friend and remember your obligation to brother, to lady, and to Lord.
I pray that as your name is so you shall be: perpetually giving Eucharistic thanks and praise to the Lord; for in so doing, you shall, like all the faithful Judes of Scripture, prevail and overcome, teaching the nations obedience, bearing the very Lawgiver in your soul.
Saint Jude, pray for us that we may be made worthy to join you at Christ's mystical banquet, bearing the Son in our souls, perpetually giving thanks to the Lord our God!
*Our Eastern Rite brethren commemorate St. Jude on June 19, while we Western rite folk commemorate Saints Jude and Simon together on October 28.