On a small stand attached to the wall in my grandmother's house is a small porcelain statue of a saint that holds a large gold medal and has the fire of Pentecost over his head. My grandmother always told me that he was St. Jude, the patron of lost causes. Its not immediately clear, other than people having experienced miracles after praying through his intercession, why he is the patron saint of lost causes, and that makes sense because in truth not much is clear about Jude, other than that his name sounds very similar to the man who betrayed Jesus. He is celebrated today with another Apostle, Simon, because they are said to have died at the same time. Like Jude, we don't know much about Simon other than that he is sometimes called "the zealot" in Scripture, which may or may not be a reference to his having been a part of a Jewish religious group who were so zealous for the faith that they often engaged in what we might today call acts of terror against the Roman empire. We celebrate their feast every year on the 28th of October in the Catholic Church though, and while don't know much about these two men, what we do know might say enough. We can learn from what little that we know of them; namely we can learn from the labels that they bore.
Christians affirm what scripture and other historical sources do about these men, namely that they were chosen to lead the community. That one bore a name which, in the original text, was exactly the same as the name of the man who would turn over Christ to the authorities and ultimately his death, or that the other was identified with a group that waged terrorist warfare seemed to matter little to Jesus, or to the community. It's only later that we change Jude's name, and it's only recently, thanks to historical research, that we are comfortable with calling a zealot for what they really were, even if that puts an apostle in the same camp as terrorists.
We learn from labels today in our contemporary society because we are a society of headlines and buzzwords. We are a society which allows a small sample of a person's behavior or of those with whom they are associated to become the foundation for our morally absolute judgements. In the end this seems to be ok for each of us, because it is how we have learned to digest the news in the world in this day and age, that is, of course, until it all turns on us. That is the moment when we can turn to these two men. When we feel misunderstood, when we feel trapped by a past or a friendship, when we feel like the world's judgment has boxed us in or imprisoned us, we can think of these two men, called to lead and yet likely misunderstood.
Legends have been created overtime to explain these labels. Jude is given a different name in some sources where he is called Thaddeus instead. In a venerable tradition in the churches of the east, Simon is called the zealot because, having met Christ, he becomes zealous in the sense that we use it today. One of them, according to various legends, may or may not have been the groom at the wedding at Cana. Both men are today said to be buried at an unassuming side altar dedicated to St. Joseph in St. Peter's basilica after having been martyred together in what is now Syria in about 65 AD, or not.
The truth is that we don't know if any of the above is actually true for sure, and our legend may have been created to fill in the emptiness and discomfort of the labels that these men bore. What we do know, though, is that in this age of headlines and catchphrases, in this era of 140 characters and small, square photos on smart phones, we'd do well to judge not as Twitter judges, but as Christ does. We know that our own stories are far grander than could ever be expressed by labels, and those who know those stories and who know us well pay no attention to the labels. Perhaps we should see in others what Christ saw in a man who was a zealot, and what the early community saw in a man with the same name as the man that betrayed Christ, that labels are useless before the mystery of the person, and that each of us is so much more than our labels make evident.