Well, with nine of the original twelve apostles down, that brings us to St. Simon the Zealot. St. Simon is referred to as the “zealot” to distinguish him from Simon Peter, but really, there’s not a whole lot known about him from the Gospels. A lot is extrapolated from that little nickname!
Some Church Fathers identified St. Simon as being from Cana in Galilee, although many modern scholars seem to think a mistake in translation led such Fathers as St. Jerome to make this assumption. Some Easter Christians hold the tradition that St. Simon was the bridegroom at the wedding feast in Cana where Jesus turned water into wine, and that he was so moved by the miracle and so “zealous”, that he left his new bride to follow Christ. Sounds like the beginning of a great romantic comedy!
Other traditions hold that the title “zealot” indicates that he was a devout and zealous follower of the Jewish Law before he met Jesus. Still other traditions take that a step further and suggest that his devotion to the Law actually drove him to be a member of the Jewish revolutionary group known as the Zealots.
The Zealots tried to stir up the people of the Roman province of Judea to rebel against the Empire by force of arms. We might consider them to be the spiritual successors to the Maccabees, who did the same thing against the Greeks 160 years before. Their belief was that only God was the king of Israel, and the Law of Moses was their only law, and so the Roman occupiers were not only politically harmful, they were also spiritually desecrating Israel by their rule. This all came to a head in the Great Jewish Revolt from 66 to 70 AD, which ultimately resulted in the Temple being destroyed by the Romans. If St. Simon was part of this group, it is assumed that he gave this part of his life up when he began following Jesus.
After the Resurrection, St. Simon’s life is just as foggy. Most traditions hold that he did his missionary work with St. Jude Thaddeus (who we will discuss next week). Unfortunately for historians, pretty much every region of the world claims St. Simon preached to them (zealot indeed!), although the most likely destinations are Egypt, North Africa, Persia and Lebanon. One of the more popular Church traditions is that he was named Bishop of Jerusalem for a time, and was martyred doing missionary work in that region. Often times, he is depicted in art holding a saw, which supposedly was the instrument of his martyrdom! Intense! Today, his relics are believed to be entombed alongside St. Jude’s in St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican.
Maybe the most important quality that we can take away from what little we know of St. Simon’s life is what he is known for – his zeal. Generally speaking, zeal is a great enthusiasm or energy which drives one toward a cause or goal. In the case of St. Simon and many of the saints, his zeal was a zeal for souls, spreading the Gospel to all the nations, just as the Lord had commissioned him. It’s so easy to put other needs and concerns ahead of our faith, but the example of St. Simon and the saints is that all of the affairs of our lives ultimately continue to direct us toward our most important goal – Heaven. Let us pray through the intercession of St. Simon that we might have his zeal in every aspect of our lives!