Thursday, May 11, 2006

Hey Jude

The Letter of Jude is a rather curious piece of Scripture. Only one chapter, several similarities in content and tone to Second Peter. And we’re not even sure who wrote it.

Most likely it is not the Apostle Jude, one of the Twelve. Of course he is an apostle in an extended sense, since he is a biblical author. When Peter and Paul write, they call themselves apostles. Jude doesn’t, and neither does James. James wasn’t one of the Twelve either, but is he who was called “brother of the Lord,” the first bishop of Jerusalem. Jude calls himself “brother of James.” This same James? We don’t know, but perhaps. One more thing. Jude speaks of the Apostles in the third person and past tense, which he mostly likely wouldn’t do if he were one of the Twelve. “Remember, beloved, the predictions of the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ; they said to you…” (Jude 17).

Now that you have this interesting but relatively useless information, what does St Jude actually say? He starts out in a way that I sometimes have to start out: by saying that he had hoped that he could simply write a reflection on the salvation we’ve been offered by Christ, but instead he had to turn it into an exhortation to defend and fight for the faith, which is being distorted and attacked by enemies. How pleasant it would be simply to create gentle and irenic reflections on the mysteries of faith, but often it is more urgently necessary to warn people—like Ezekiel the watchman—of proliferating errors and all manner of spiritual slag being substituted for the pure truth of the Gospel.

Jude also silences one of the arguments of those who desperately and disingenuously try to show that the Bible does not in fact condemn homosexual behavior. They say that the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah was not sodomy (wonder where that word came from?), but lack of hospitality to strangers—give me a break! Anyway, here’s what Jude says: “Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, which likewise acted immorally and indulged in unnatural lust, serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire” (v 7). This is also the only place in Scripture where it says explicitly that certain people are actually in Hell.

He goes on to list the errors of the heretics and enemies of the Church. Finally, though, we get a beautiful trinitarian exhortation: “Build yourselves up on your most holy faith; pray in the Holy Spirit; keep yourselves in the love of God; wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life” (vv 20-21). Pray in the Spirit; remain in the Father’s love; wait for the mercy of Jesus—this is what will bring us to eternal life. He closes with an encouraging doxology. He says that God is “able to keep you from falling and to present you without blemish before the presence of his glory with rejoicing.” The implication is that even if we do fall He can raise us up, because He is able to bring us, immaculate, into his presence. Now there’s something to look forward to: in purified perfection, entering into the glory of God with rejoicing.

That is the goal and destiny of our lives. That is what makes all the hardships of this life endurable, all the sufferings and sacrifices worthwhile. The day is coming when we will enter into divine glory, rejoicing. Hey, Jude, thanks for that blessed vision, that call to hope, despite all that would fight against our holy faith. Pray for us that we may join you in the glory—rejoicing!