The Apostle Jude Thaddeus had a name that was as famous and honorable in his day as the name Judas is infamous and heinous today. Many great men of the Old Testment were named Judas, or Judah. The two most distinguished were Judah, one of the sons of Jacob and the father of the tribe of Juda, and Judas Maccabaeus, the heroic Jewish warrior who fought against the Syrians. Many traits of these two men of the Chosen People were reflected in the apostle Jude. Because these names, however, are clouded with so much secrecy and mystery, one is almost forced to conclude that they inevitably stamped on their bearers characters as unchallengeable as the preconceived ideas promulgated in the heated arguments of biased and unlettered people.
When Judah, the son of Jacob, was born, his pious mother joyfully called out, "'Now will I praise the Lord.' And for this she called him Juda." Although he was not the oldest son of Jacob, he had a leading position among his brothers-thanks to his somewhat permanently predetermined character. His part, however, in the story of his brother Joseph in Egypt was a laudable exception. Here he bravely and staunchly opposed the demand of the others. Instead of fratricide, he proposed the lesser of two evils-to sell his brother to Madianite merchants for twenty pieces of silver.
Later there was to be another Judas who received silver for the life of another-the betrayer, Judas Iscariot. The silver pieces numbered thirty.
The dying patriarch Jacob marked his son Judah as the forefather of the Messias with this blessing:
Juda, thee shall thy brethren praise. thy hands shall be on the necks of thy enemies: the sons of thy father shall bow down to thee. Juda is a lion's whelp: to the prey, my son, thou are gone up. Resting thou has couched as a lion, and as a lioness. Who shall rouse him? The sceptre shall not be taken away from Juda, nor a ruler from his thigh, till he come that is to be sent: and he shall be the expectation of nations.
These words of power and valor prophetically point also, as it were, to the apostle Jude Thaddeus whose whole life was centered on them.
Also powerful and important was the other great Judas of the Old Testament, the third son of Mathathias. Because of his heroic deeds, by which he distinguished himself in the Jewish struggle in the second century before Christ to maintain their religious freedom, he was surnamed Maccabaeus. (This word probably comes from the Aramaic maqqaba, which means "hammer"-signifying the vigor of his forecful attacks against the Syrians.) In glorious battles he conquered the huge armies of the godless King Antiochus IV, which were led by the commanders, generals, and governors, Nicanor, Gorgias, Timotheus, Bacchides, and Lysias. He successfully took possession of the Holy City, Jerusalem, after battling the hostile pagan occupation forces. Sacrifice and worship to the God of Israel, as the Law prescribed, were returned to the purified and reconsecrated temple.
The heroic deeds of this Judas remained vivid in the memory of the Jewish people. At home Jude Thaddeus heard his father and grandfather recounting the feasts of this great warrior. And in the synagogue he quietly listened on many Sabbaths to sermons inspired by the life and religion of this national hero. When the apostle later found himself in difficult situations, he could look back on his ideal. Then was Jude pround of his name, which so many brave and courageous men before him had borne. Here was his pattern, his blueprint. He also would be a "lion's whelp" and a "Maccabaean," a "hammer" for his age.
This noble name, however, was sadly spotted and stained by another Judas, also an apostle, the betrayer of Christ. There was no hope of ever having the name vindicated again. His heinous and ignominious crime was too deeply impressed on this name, and so corroded it, that they have never been separated, not even after many centuries. They are doomed to be as one until the end of time. No longer does Judas mean "I will praise the Lord," as Lia joyfully called out, but rather "I have sold the Lord for thirty pieces of silver," as Judas dispairingly moaned. No Christian is willing to bear the name of Judas, for even today the name bears a curse.
Both Jude Thaddeus and Judas Iscariot were apostles of Christ. Twice St Luke named them next to each other. When the Lord called "Judah," did both turn to look? But perhaps there was a slightly distinguishable tone in the Master's voice. When the unbelievable news spread like wildfire on Good Friday-the apostle "Judah" betrayed the Messias and then hanged himself-many may have thought that Jude Thaddeus was the guilt one.
The betrayer had also disgraced the name of Judas Maccabaeus. As an atonement for this offense, Catholic people since the eighteenth century have devoutly honored the holy namesake of this unfortunate betrayer with a special trust. The apostle Jude Thaddeus has become the patron of Christians troubled with cares and anxieties, patron of Christians who are on the verge of despair.
Jude, the Brother of the Lord
Even in the Gospels the evangelists were embarrassed to mention the name of Judas. Their prejudice is quite apparent. In the one passage in which St John spoke of Thaddeus, he hurried over the name, and was quick to add, "Judas, not the Iscariot... Even more striking is the fact that both Matthew and Mark never mentioned the full name of this apostle, Jude Thaddeus, but merely called him by his surname, Thaddeus. One can correctly assume that the evangelists wanted to reestablish a good name for this apostle among his companions and especially among the people. By using only his surname, they could remove any stigma his name might have given him.
St. Luke was the first to mention this apostle by his proper name, but not without affixing a light to this dark and gloom name: "Judas Jacobi"-literally, "Jude of James." At first one might think that Jude was the son of James, but, as the English translation of this passage show, he was "Jude, the brother of James." That these two were brothers is shown in several passages in Holy Scripture. Both Matthew and Luke referred to them as brothers, and Jude himself wrote in the beginning of his Epistle that he was "the brother of James."
This James, whom St. Luke, in his two list of the apostles, was quick to distinguish from Judas Iscariot, must have been a well-known Christian and a highly esteemed person. In view of the fact that James the Great was already dead for twenty years, it is not plausible to maintain that it was he who was meant. In support of this, it should be noted that previously James the Great was mentioned only as the brother of John, never as the brother of Jude. Jude Thaddeus was the brother of James the Less, the bishop of Jerusalem. It is also noteworthy that the evangelists Matthew and Mark placed James the Less and Thaddeus next to each other in their lists of the apostles. At the same time, the question whether James and Jude were blood brothers or only brothers in the sense of cousins cannot be answered with certitude and must be left unsolved. In any case, this famous James helped to brighten the gloom name of Jude.
There was another ray of light that fell upon this good Jude, who had the misfortune of sharing the same name with the betrayer of Christ. He was not only the brother of the distinguished James, but also a "brother" of the Lord Himself. The Nazarenes asked about Jesus, " 'Is not this the carpenter...the brother of James...(and) Jude?'" It is not improper to think that this apostle played and prayed with Jesus in the happy days of their youth. They might well have run and rambled together on the way to the great feasts in Jerusalem. Full of fear, Mary looked for the lost, twelve-year-old Jesus, and she may have first sought out His cousins, Jude and James-where and when had they seen Him last; where and when had they last been together? This apostle, too, like James, was closely related to Jesus. In his Epistle he called himself "the brother of James," but, with shy reserve, not brother of the Lord, but "servant of Jesus Christ."