Of all the apostles, I've heard most Christians claim to be like Peter. The reason is obvious and natural enough: to claim likeness with Paul is to claim a share in his sufferings and idealism and wisdom which borders on the comically narcissistic; and to claim likeness with John is to say that we are the disciple whom Jesus loved. We know little more of Matthew than that he was a tax collector, and of certain other apostles, our understanding goes little further than a business of fishing. But Peter is far different: he's brash and rude and mistaken and forgetful — cowardly and silly and short-sighted: in other words, a perfect match for nearly every Christian in existence. The other apostles are Apostles; Peter is human.
But after much consideration of virtues and faults, it's far more fair for average true Christian to claim likeness with Thaddeus. And I remember laughing a week ago because I had just realized Thaddeus' existence, after reading over his name for several years and never pausing to realize that nobody had ever spoken of this apostle, despite the fact that Jesus Christ found him so incredibly useful, that of the entire world's population, he was selected as one of twelve to help begin Christianity. Whoever Thaddeus was, if he was not someone great at first, by the grace of God he was someone great at last; and I have never heard his name mentioned except as part of a list.
I am so used to thinking of the apostles in an epic sense, that I'm not quite sure what to make of Thaddeus. Of the others, even if almost nothing was spoken of them in the Gospels or the Acts, at least I had heard of their deaths — even James was cut in two, after never having spoken a memorable word in the Gospels. But Thaddeus stands alone simply for that reason: he is alone. Whatever he did and whatever he said, whoever he loved and however he died, he stands a one-word testimony to the fact that even should we stand as one of the twelve, and march across a Judean wilderness healing masses and preaching the kingdom, we will very likely be forgotten.
It's admittedly difficult to find glory in a nameless death, or in the praise of men who, in any short amount of time, will cease praising when they cease breathing, or when they begin thinking about anything else. After all, we aren't accustomed to thinking of goodness without visible reward; most of us do things because they benefit us in some obvious way, and when they don't, oftentimes neither do we. What use is it, then, if we labor and toil and sweat and then at the end of the day, that's all we have — the end of the day?
I've oftentimes thought about war films, and how we watch men being cut down by gunfire and slashed with the sword, and we carry on with the heroes (most usually) to see the end, but that being torn apart by bullets was the last the fallen soldier experienced before falling into darkness. And I find myself wondering, in those moments, exactly where victory, and honor, and worthiness lie — and certainly, these fallen men are heroes. Man in honest self-consideration feels almost justified in wondering whether a carefully-timed cowardice is more to our benefit than the uncherished suffering of the soldier and the martyr, and he begins to think the thoughts of Shakespeare's villain, the incorrigible John Falstaff:
Can honor set to a leg? No. Or an arm? No. Or take away the grief of a wound? No. Honour hath no skill in surgery then? No. What is honour? A word. What is that word honour? Air. A trim reckoning! Who hath it? He that died a Wednesday. Doth he feel it? No. Doth be bear it? No. 'Tis insensible then? Yea, to the dead. But will it not live with the living? No. Why? Detraction will not suffer it. Therefore I'll none of it.
But Thaddeus is different; and unlike Paul or Peter or Matthew, in him we see the commandment of Christ fulfilled in its most perfect sense — that if we do good works or pray, it is acceptable to do them so secretly, that the possibility of going about unnoticed is entirely possible. Perhaps Thaddeus did move secretly; perhaps he didn't. I can't say because no one has mentioned it. But if nobody has bothered to mention it, then Thaddeus can be great and be obscure; and if Thaddeus can be great without us knowing it, then we can strive to be great without anyone knowing it either.
Thaddeus, in a strange and roundabout way, is known to us today in a far different sense than we might imagine. We may never have recognized his name until this last week, or we may have known it all our lives, but we have encountered his fingerprints all over the world. From the twelve went hundreds, from the hundreds went thousands, and from the thousands went millions; and though we may not recognize them as the distinct work of Thaddeus, they are, and we will one day know it. To say that we know nothing of Thaddeus is understandable; to say that we experience nothing of Thaddeus is ridiculous.
What, then, is the Christian? Largely nameless, largely pitiable; often small, often mocked, often forgotten — always beautiful, always triumphant, always taking part in something which, whether he sees the conclusion with earthly eyes or not, grows and flourishes. With God's hand upon his shoulder, he does whether he wins or not; with God's whisper in his hear, he speaks with or without applause. He does not calculate only for success, but acts because he must; he feels the weight of eternity behind him, and marches in a direction which mortal sight oftentimes reckons aimless, but which the elect know as glorious.
If God makes us all a Paul or a John or even a Peter, then so let Him see to it; but let us in our adoration of the Almighty be perfectly satisfied being a forgotten Thaddeus. For Thaddeus was only forgotten by men; and it is perfectly fine to live righteously and be forgotten by men, if we are chosen by God and remembered by saints. And if on that last day, after years of pain and toil and alienation, find that we haven't wearied in doing good, and hear well done, thou good and faithful servant, I am certain we will have all the glory we will need.