8 May 2020

Fr Kevin Alban writes our reflection today on coping with Covid-19 with Saint Jude

You might be forgiven for thinking that St Jude doesn’t have much to tell us about Covid19 and the pandemic it has caused. After all, he lived nearly 2,000 years ago in a very different society and neither he nor any other of the apostles had any medical knowledge, as we would understand it. However, maybe a fresh look at the letter in the New Testament which bears his name might prove fruitful for us today.

No one knows for sure whether the apostle Jude who appears in the gospels is the same person that wrote the letter of St Jude. In one sense, that doesn’t matter because the belief of the early Church was that Jude of James or Jude Thaddaeus was the author, so for the sake of argument, let’s go along. Jude speaks only once in John’s gospel in chapter 14 when Jesus tells the apostles he will make himself known to those who obey his commands and understand that Jesus comes from the Father and is in the Father. This is part of Jesus’ mission to the world as messiah and Jude wants to go deeper into the question to understand what Jesus means. Jude asks him “Lord, how will you make yourself known to us, but not to the world?” In other words, how can the traditional image of a “globally recognised” messiah be squared with Jesus’ own statement that he will make himself known. So, Jesus’ identity will not be self-evidently clear to all, rather he will choose those to whom he wishes to reveal himself. Jude’s question receives a clear answer from Jesus: “All who love me will obey my teaching.” The practical following of Jesus by obeying his commands will be recognised by the Father who together with Jesus will come and live with these loyal disciples.

I have spent a little time discussing these two verses from John 14 because Jude’s question helps to understand what he writes in his letter. Looking through the New Testament to find the Letter of Jude you might easily miss it if you flick through too fast. It is only 25 verses long! Yet concentrated in these few lines are some precious teachings which could illuminate our present predicament in 2020.

Jude’s opening remarks are addressed to exactly the same people Jesus mentioned in John 14: those chosen by the Father and protected by Jesus. Yet there is something amiss: Jude had wanted to write a letter of encouragement about salvation, but he feels compelled to deal with the realities of the present circumstances. What seemed so simple and straightforward has become complicated and even a struggle – does that ring any bells today? The changes we are living through prompt us to talk of a “new normal”, so profound and far-reaching are the effects of this pandemic. Naturally, we can feel disturbed and even agitated by the prospect of these unknown developments.

Jude reminds us that the true Messiah, Jesus, keeps people safe. “I want to encourage you to fight hard for the faith that God gave his holy people. God gave this faith once, and it is good for all time.” The capacity for faith and the ability to believe are at the heart of discipleship. They provide a bedrock for our confidence that God does take care of his people, but not in some theoretical or abstract way. God’s protection is seen in practical and concrete ways from his dealings with the people of Israel. Very often we are not conscious of God’s positive involvement in our lives until after the event. Sometimes we are so busy asking and telling God what we want that we don’t hear the answer! Jude alerts his congregation to the various ways over history that God has led, protected, guided and shaped his people as a demonstration of his concern. Jude also reminds his listeners that God’s people has always struggled to achieve its destiny, so the people must contribute something to the divine plan as well. 

So, tranquillity and peace of mind are to be found not among the latest fads, suggestions and, dare I say, fake news. Rather it is the demonstrable facts of history that gives Israel and us confidence. Jude offers a whole series of examples drawn from the Old Testament which I am not going to reproduce or comment on here. Instead, may I suggest that this might be a good point for each of us to reflect a moment on those times we have felt God at work in our lives or maybe, after the event, realise that’s what it was. Strangely, our map going forward is based on previous experiences. We don’t have to re-invent God’s protection or presence in our lives.

That almost insignificant figure and that briefest of letters have much to teach us in terms of realism, constructing a solid basis of faith and relying on God’s protection. Seen in this way, maybe the “new normal” won’t look so different from the past experience of God’s love.

God is strong and can keep you from falling. He can bring you before his glory without any wrong in you and give you great joy. He is the only God, the one who saves us. To him be glory, greatness, power, and authority through Jesus Christ our Lord for all time past, now, and forever. Amen. (Jude 24-25)