27th October 2021
Name, fame and shame
A sermon preached by Canon Robert Titley, Treasurer
Thursday 28 October 2021, 17:30, The Feast of Simon and Jude, Apostles
Reading: John 15: 17–end
There was a man called Terry in a church where I used to work whose job sometimes took him abroad. Once he found himself in the queue for passport control at Sydney airport. When his turn came, Terry handed his passport to what seemed to be a fairly friendly official. As the official opened the document, however, his face hardened.
‘What is the purpose of your visit to Australia?’ he asked.
‘Business,’ said Terry.
‘As long as your business isn’t cricket,’ he said, ‘we don’t want any more of you bastards here.’
The reason for this unusual approach to customer care (he did not seem to be joking) was the surname in the passport – Jardine. That was the name of the captain of the England team that toured Australia in the 1932-33 season. They won the Ashes, but they used the tactic of ‘bodyline’, in which fast bowlers aimed not at stumps or bat but at the batsman’s body. These were the days before helmets, and one Australian batsman suffered a cracked skull.
Bodyline was certainly a bad chapter in English sporting history (Wisden described the Adelaide test as ‘a disgrace to cricket’) but that tour happened before this official had even been born. It seems he had been brought up on this story of Pommie wickedness, and the mere sight of that name was enough to stir the atavistic rage.
It is the miracle of language that a single word can do so much. ‘Look at my dog,’ you say, and instantly, my mind whistles up packs of information so that, whatever the size, colour, breed of your animal, I know in essence what I’m going to see before I see it. And when that word is a name, it whistles up more than just information. If I say ‘Janet’ or ‘John’, a person you know with that name will spring into your mind, in all their niceness or pain-in-the-neck-ness; and that may colour how you regard a new acquaintance with that name. It can even be someone you’ve never met but still have a strong opinion about, if I say the name ‘Winston’, perhaps, or ‘Osama’.
This is Jude’s problem. One of our two saints this evening has an extreme case of Jardine syndrome, because his real name is Judas. It’s a common name in his day. Indeed, like his apostolic partner, Simon, he shares his name with another of Jesus’ twelve disciples. But whereas Simon’s namesake will go on to be the rock on which Jesus builds his church, and get the new name of Peter, the other Judas will stain their shared name for ever when he hands Jesus over to torture and death. No wonder the church has morphed the name of ‘good’ Judas to Jude, but it hasn’t done much good. It’s no coincidence that he is the patron saint of lost causes – the saint you only go to when all else has failed.
It is striking how, in our gospel reading, Jesus warns the disciples that people will persecute them on account of his ‘name’. It is as if the badge they wear will be enough spark hostility. Why? Because their enemies cannot discern what lies beneath the name. They do not know, says Jesus, the one who has sent him.
‘Spirit of justice, power of words’ was the slogan for our 2015 Magna Carta anniversary exhibition, and it expressed the force for good in the words of that document. But, as we see, some words can have a malignant power.
The imminent climate summit, COP26, needs to produce something of Magna Carta-like force for sake of our earth. Delegates will arrive with their suspicions and prejudices, and we must pray that they will not let the name on a country’s desk or a person’s lapel get in the way of what they must achieve together. We must pray that words are used well there; and, if they are not, that the Spirit of justice overcomes the power of words.
On Monday, the first full day of the conference, we shall celebrate the feast of All Saints, with its happy picture of the communion of saints, lives of faith knit together in a great cat’s cradle of belonging across space and time, that stetches across the chasm between the living and the dead, so that those on the other side of that chasm pray for us.
So tonight let us not neglect to ask for the prayers of our Judas. Let us ask him to pray that we may see one another more as God sees us, that we may not be distracted by the name on the badge, by the outward signs, but discern what – and who – lies beneath.