The Apostle with a Big Heart: Judas Thaddaeus

The lists of the names of the apostles can become confusing. Many apostles have two (or more) names. For example, Simon is also called Peter, and Levi is also called Matthew. The Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke) include Bartholomew, while John calls him Nathanael. So also, Matthew and Mark list Thaddaeus, but Luke (and Acts) records Judas, the son of James. Judas was a very popular name in the days of the New Testament. One of the brothers of Jesus was called Judas, and two of the apostles are named Judas – Judas son of James, and Judas Iscariot. The Apostle John distinguished “Judas (not Iscariot)” (John 14:22). Since the name Judas in English is associated with the man who betrayed Jesus, English Bibles tend to change the Greek word, Judas, to Jude for everyone who isn’t Judas Iscariot, but that is only common in English and French Bibles.

Who was Judas Thaddaeus, the apostle? From the Bible, we don’t know much. He is always one of the last four apostles and associated with Simon the Zealot in tradition so that he may have shared Simon’s revolutionary tendencies. On the other hand, Luke called him “Thaddaeus,” a nickname that means “big or courageous hearted.” During the Last Supper, when Jesus said, “And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him,” Judas asked, “Lord, how is it that you will manifest yourself to us, and not to the world?” The answer is comforting:

“If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.”

In other words, our obedience develops our understanding.

Beyond the pages of Scripture, legends abound. Tradition holds he was a vegetarian. A fourteenth-century writer, Nicephorus Callistus, claimed Judas was the bridegroom in Cana who ran out of wine. Legend claims his father was Clopas. He probably was a farmer and may have come from Caesarea Philippi north of Galilee, but there is no way to be sure of any of that. He was likely beheaded in Beirut, but definitive answers will have to wait.

Finally, in Catholicism, Jude is honored as the patron saint of lost causes. They reason that few people asked for Jude’s help in prayer because they didn’t want to call on Judas Iscariot by accident. As a result of being ignored, Jude is especially eager to help those who call on him!

The New Testament teaches that we are all saints – from the greatest apostles to the humblest disciple. Jesus answers all of our prayers, but we can look to the heroes of faith, like the courageous-hearted Jude, as examples to follow.

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