The apostle Simon was the least known, and one must constrain himself lest he say the least important, of all the apostles. In all Sacred Scripture there is nothing else said of him beyond the mention of his name. And even this name, Simon-from the Hebrew, shim'on, literally, "heard"-he had to share with another Simon in the circle of the apostles. The duplication of names among the apostles is surprising: Simon Peter and Simon the Zealot, James the Great and James the Less, Jude Thaddeus and Judas Iscariot. Simon Peter was the first, the great, the rock foundation of the Church. It would seem that the greatness of this first Simon completely overshadowed Simon, the unknown, the last of the Twelve.
Simon, the Unknown
We know nothing certain about the home of the apostle Simon. Matthew and Mark called him "the Cananean," most probably to distinguish him, not only from Simon Peter, but also from many others with the same name at that time. This led many, even St Jerome, to assume that Simon came from Cana. Greek and Coptic commentators, therefore, identified this apostle with the Nathanael mentioned by St John, who came from Cana. Yet Nathanael was another name for the apostle Bartholomew (as shown in the first pages of chapter six). Still others held that this "Simon the Cananean" was the bridegroom at Cana, for whom the Lord worked His first public miracle by changing water into wine. This opinion is also with a solid foundation.
The expression "the Cananean"-derived from an Aramaic word quana, literally, "to be zealous"-does not purport an inhabited place, but rather a political party. St Luke expressed the same meaning with the Greek word Zelotes-an anti-Roman, Jewish zealot. The context of the Gospel and also the history of this party point to Galilee as the home of Simon; but a more definite statement than this cannot be made on the basis of reliable information.
Little is know about the family of this apostle; yet there are reasons to believe that he was a "brother of the Lord." Both Matthew and Mark mentioned a Simon as the brother of Jesus. When Christ returned to Nazareth and began teaching in the synagogues, the astonished people queried, "'Is not this the carpenter..., the brother of James, Joseph, Jude and Simon?'"
In the lists of the apostles, all three Synoptics mentioned a Simon together with James and Jude. When St Mark enumerated the names of James, Jude and Simon as brethen of the Lord, he used the same sequence that he used in his list of the apostles. This is further evidence that Simon, the brother of the Lord, was an apostle like James and Jude, also brethren of the Lord. In other words, there is supported only one Simon in question here.
This assumption is supported by Hegesippus' statement that a Simon, the second bishop of Jerusalem, was a son of Clopas, the brother of the foster father St Joseph. Clopas, or Cleophas, is to be identified with Alpheus, the father of James the Less (as explained in the first pages of chapter nine). Following this supposition, one may conclude that the apostle James, Jude, and Simon were "brethren" of Christ, either close or distant cousins. In Simon's case, this mark of distinction is hidden and obscure; his older and more influential brothers preceded him even in his home life. They made the decisions and answered the questions. For him, the last, the youngest, there remained nothing but to stand quietly by, almost unseen. His name means "heard," but as yet he was unheard, and unheard of.
The calling of the apostle Simon has not been recorded. He stood among the crowd of disciples on the mountain when the Lord chose the Twelve. Perhaps his two older brothers, James and Jude, were displeased when their "little brother" kept following them. One of the three should have been home helping their father, Alpheus, for a farmer is never without work and the need of help throughout the year. Annoyed and vexed, like Eliab, the older brother of the young David, they also may have upbraided the young Simon:
Why camest thou hither? And why didst thou leave those few sheep in the sheep? I know thy pride, and the wickedness of thy heart: that thou art come down to see the battle.
Simon stared with large, astonished eyes when our Lord called from the crowd of men a Simon, the first to follow Jesus, then the noble Andrew, then the ardent James, then the brave John. His biggest surprise was yet to come. The Messias called his brother James. This was an undreamed of honor for the family. And what was more, he immediately called his brother Jude. With dignity they walked past their younger brother, Simon, who beamed with pride and glowed with joy. Then men surrounded Jesus as ten diamonds adorn a crown. Would the Lord call any others? If so, whom would He choose? And Christ said, "Simon." Simon was confused. He hesitated. Then he was embarrassed. There were many there named Simon. And Jesus repeated, "Simon," and hesitating, added, "the Zealot." Simon the Zealot? An unbelieving surprise and astonishment ran through the crowd as "the Cananean" approached the group around the Lord.
Matthew and Mark placed Simon as the eleventh one on their list of the apostles. Only Judas Iscariot came after him. Possibly our Lord had called Judas before Simon, making Simon the very last-for only the betrayer's sacrilegious crime may have prompted the evangelists to place him behind all the other apostles. One has to feel sorry for Simon that he should be named in the same breath along with Judas Iscariot, the betrayer of the Messias. Many times it may have been very difficult to be near his gloom neighbor. He did not know why. When the Master sent the Twelve on their first missionary journey, "two by two," Simon possibly accompanied the apostle who later hanged himself.
In the "Last Supper" of Leonardo da Vinci, Simon was portrayed at the far left. One gets the impression that he reached his position and held his place only with difficulty. He stood quietly and patiently behind all the others.
We know nothing certain, absolutely nothing certain about Simon's apostolic works. None of these were recorded in the Gospels, or in the Acts of the Apostles. Nor did he leave behind him even a few verses of a short Epistle, such as his brother Jude wrote. Not a word was spoken to Simon, nor did he ask a single question which the evangelists deemed important or worthy enough to be recorded. Brief remarks of Thomas and Philip and Jude Thaddeus at the Last Supper were noted and remembered and written down with care for all posterity. But the zealous apostle had only a silent role to play in the circle around Christ. It seems he had nothing else to do except to be there.
When the apostles returned to their Master after their first active work preaching the New Law, they could not wait to tell all they had seen and heard. Eagerly they reported everything to Him, what they had said and taught. But when Simon came into their ranks, all accounts and questions, and Christ's advice, suddenly came to a halt. Never do we read of a distinction alotted to Simon, never of an appearance made by him. Perhaps on Palm Sunday, Simon was one of the two whom Jesus sent ahead of Him into a village to untie and bring the ass and the colt that the Messias might enter Jerusalem as the prophets had foretold. This unknown apostle never stood out from the rest, was neither prominent nor distinguished. He was always in the group, together with the others, almost without a personality, only an apostle, only one of the Twelve. Just this remaining quiet, obscure, unknown has become a mark of his character.
The relics of this apostle Simon have been preserved in the Vatican. But who of the hundred of thousands of thousands who visit St Peter's in Rome think of Simon, the unknown apostle? For the first Simon, Simon Peter, the basilica was built. His statue has been kissed in reverence so often that over the years the foot of it has been completely flattened. The eleventh apostle, on the contrary, has long since been enjoying undisturbed quiet.
Simon, the unknown apostle, is the patron of the countless Christians who go through life without fame, without a name. He is the patron of the army of unknown workers in the vineyard of the Lord, who toil in the last places for the kingdom of God. He is the patron of the unknown soldiers of Christ, who struggle on the disregarded and thankless fronts. No one notices, no one praises, no one rewards this obscure and often misunderstood apostles-no one except the Father, who sees through all obscurity, who understands all misjudgments.
Was Simon the Zealot, the last apostle, less deserving of praise than Simon Peter, the first apostle, the leader of all the Twelve, because we know so little about him? He also was one of the Twelve, as good as the powerful Peter, as good as the noble John. For him also were the words of our Lord intended:
"You are my friends if you do the things I command you. No longer do I call you servants, because the servant does not know what his master does. But I have called you friends, because all things that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you."
Christ may have honored this unknown and seemingly unimportant apostle with many special words. But He may have spoken so softly that none of the others heard what these words were and therefore could not repeat them, or record them, when Simon remained humbly in the background. It was this unknown apostle who had a special likeness to the unknown Son of God. And for this very reason Simon may well have had a better understanding of the Messias and His heavenly kingdom.
Simon himself was certainly not annoyed that he stood in the last place, nor did he work the less for it. He also made sacrifices and journeyed without "'gold, or silver, or money in your girdles, no wallet for your journey, nor two tunics, nor sandals, nor staff; for the laborer deserves his living.'" And he preached, "'The kingdom of heaven is at hand!'". He would "'cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out devils.'" He was neither crippled by self-pity nor paralyzed by an inferiority complex in his apostolic labors. It was this unknown Simon who carried a title with him into the lists of the apostles in the Gospels, a title that is more surprising in him than it is for any other apostle: the Zealot.