Commentary on Jude 17, 20-25
As we come to the end of this week, we have a solitary reading from the Letter of Jude. It is a very short letter, consisting of just one chapter of 25 verses. Our reading comes from the latter part of the letter. In general, the letter is a stern warning against false teachers who are doing untold harm to the community.
The first piece of advice is to keep in mind the prophetic teachings of the apostles. The coming of these godless heretics should not take believers by surprise, for it had been predicted by the apostles.
Addressing them as ‘Beloved’ (‘agaphtoi, agapetoi), in contrast to the ungodly false teachers about whom this letter speaks at length, Jude gives them some exhortations on how to cope with these threats to their faith. He urges them to pray under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
Secondly, they are to remain persevering in the love of God. God keeps believers in his love and enables them to keep themselves in his love. As Paul had said so graphically: “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, no powers, nor height, nor death, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39). As long as they remain open to that love, the Christians can be sure of “the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to life eternal”.
At the same time, some who are confused by the false teachers need to have their thinking corrected, while others need to be snatched from imminent destruction and loss.
“On others have mercy with fear..” – even in showing mercy and compassion to those who stray, one may oneself be trapped by the allurement of their false teaching – “…abhorring even the outer garment stained by the flesh”. The wicked are pictured as so corrupt that even their garments are polluted by their sinful nature.
The reading ends with a magnificent doxology, one of the finest in the whole of the New Testament.
We look to protection from the only One who can protect us and help us stand unstained and triumphant in the presence of his glory. After all the attention necessarily given in this letter to the ungodly and their works of darkness, Jude concludes his letter by focusing attention on God, who is fully able to protect those who put their trust in him.
Every age in the Church, not least our own, has people going around with all kinds of strange and new messages. And there are always those who, in Paul’s words, have “itching ears” for the latest novelty. Some of these novelties can be highly destructive as we have seen in the case of some of the more outlandish sects where many people, including children, unnecessarily lost their lives or where there was indulgence in behaviour that was either bizarre or humanly degrading and abusive.
The Christian churches, including the Catholic Church, have their faults and need continue to learn where the Truth is but there is a solid foundation in the Word of God that comes to us through Jesus Christ that we abandon at our peril.