St. James the Apostle
The Gospel. St. Matthew XX. 20.
At that time: Then came to Jesus the mother of Zebedee’s children with her sons, worshipping him, and desiring a certain thing of him. And he said unto her: What wilt thou? She saith unto him: Grant that these my two sons may sit, the one on thy right hand, and the other on the left, in thy kingdom. But Jesus answered and said: Ye know not what ye ask. Are ye able to drink of the cup that I shall drink of, and to be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with? They say unto him: We are able. And he saith unto them; Ye shall drink indeed of my cup, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with; but to sit on my right hand, and on my left is not mine to give, but it shall be given to them for whom it is prepared of my Father. And when the ten heard it, they were moved with indignation against the two brethren. But Jesus called them unto him, and said: Ye know that the princes of the Gentiles exercise dominion over them, and they that are great exercise authority upon them. But it shall not be so among you; but whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister; and whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant; even as the Son of Man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.
As you all know, today we are celebrating the feast of our Patronal Saint; St. James the Apostle; also known as “St. James the Greater”. And what a great Gospel story we have for this day; for in it, we see a forewarning of James future life and ultimate fate; and likewise a foreshadowing of our own destiny as Christians as well; a destiny that is guaranteed to us, if we so choose it.
In Holy Scripture, the first mention of St. James is recorded in a similar manner in all three of the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew 4:18-22, Mark 1:19-20, Luke 5:1-11); Jesus is walking along the shore of the Sea of Galilee when he comes upon various groups of fishermen who are wrapping things up for the day. We can imagine that there were more than a few groups of these men; fishing being the major industry in that particular area. But of all those present on the shore, Jesus stops first by Simon, and his brother Andrew, and calls them to join him.
Next, he sees James, and his younger brother John, mending the breaks in their nets, (which St. Luke implies in his Gospel, may have been caused by the miracle of the great catch of fishes). These two, who are sons of a man named Zebedee, are business partners with Simon, and they are the next to be called by Our Lord.
Now James and John both appear to be younger men at this point. Indeed, John would go on to live for about another sixty years or so after Our Lord’s Ascension. Perhaps because of their youth, James and John were both full of zeal and energy. It’s possible that they saw in this Jesus of Nazareth, an opportunity to escape the mindless drudgery of their daily existence and to embark on an adventure that would gain them greater reward.
This zeal and energy would exhibit itself in the ways that the brothers interacted with Our Lord. They, like Simon Peter, were full of questions and ideas. St. Luke tells us that when a certain Samaritan village refused to welcome Jesus, James and John urged him to give them the authority to call down fire from heaven to destroy the place (Luke 9:54). For all of this Our Lord, perhaps affectionately, gave the brothers the nickname; “the sons of thunder”.
And of course, James and John became, along with Simon Peter, the closest of Jesus Apostles. These three were allowed to be present when Our Lord raised Jarius’ daughter (Mark 5:37); and they were also present at the Transfiguration of Christ (Matthew 17:1). It would be natural to assume that all of this might have lead James and John to feel quite special.
But of course, “special” is never quite special enough. And having listened to all this talk about the Kingdom of God, James and John hit upon the idea that they deserved something more. And they also wanted to get their “more special” place reserved for them ahead of all the other disciples. But St. Matthew’s Gospel leads us to believe that they might have been hesitant to broach the subject with Jesus themselves. Enter the Jewish mother!
Now in order to better understand the scene as it unfolded, we should keep in mind a couple of things; first is a reminder of the relative youth of the two brothers. And second is the fact that James and John had left their father’s business; essentially leaving Zebedee to fend for himself. Further, we get the impression that Zebedee’s wife, whose name is known in Scripture as Salome, had also left her husband and was traveling with the group so as to keep an eye on her boys.
No doubt Salome felt that her family was heavily invested in this enterprise and she was going to make sure that her sons got what she felt they deserved. And where James and John might have been hesitant, mom has no qualms about jumping in. And so she drags the brothers over to Jesus, “just to talk”.
Now of course she didn’t just barge right up and start making demands; mom knew better than that. St. Matthew tells us that they approached “worshipping” Jesus, which I interpret to mean that they came to him in all proper humility and deference (Matthew 20:20). Nevertheless, when Jesus asks what they want, mom takes the lead; “you know Lord, when you get to your kingdom, I want my boys to have places of honor at your side”.
Well, first of all, to her credit, at least she has one thing right; she knows, she believes, she has full faith that Jesus will indeed rule someday. And she’s not asking for material riches or power, but rather she is looking for some assurance that her sons will have a special place in that heavenly Kingdom. But of course, none of them really know just what they are asking for; nor do they fully understand what will be required of them before they get there.
We can imagine that it is with some sadness that Jesus answers them; “Are you really prepared for this? Can you drink of the cup that I shall drink of? Can you walk the path that I am on? Are you ready to suffer as I will? Are you ready to die”?
Naturally, the youthful zeal of these two men takes over once more; “yeah, sure Lord, we’re ready, willing, and able”! Then, Jesus tells them their future; John will indeed suffer persecution throughout his life. He will be put out of the synagogues, subjected to torture, and persevere through banishment. And James, well, James will become the first of the Apostles to be martyred for Christ.
There is a somewhat dubious tradition that says St. James might have gone to Spain briefly and preached the Gospel there; but in any event, his earthly ministry would be all to short. Sometime around A.D. 42 or 43, the Apostle was murdered by Herod Agrippa; an act that so pleased the Jews that Herod thought he should try it again; and with a similar intent he had St. Peter arrested as well. However, as we know from the Acts of the Apostles, God had other plans there (Acts 12:1-11).
But even though St. James’ time here on earth was all too brief, he nonetheless provides for us an example of that Christian life that we are all called upon to lead. Think about it. First, as Christians, we should approach our Faith with a youthful zeal and exuberance. We should be invigorated and energized by the message of the Gospel and strengthened by the Sacraments.
Next, we have the right to ask of Christ for our place in his Heavenly Kingdom. Since Our Lord did not rebuke James and John for their seeming impertinence, we may assume that such a request is not “out of bounds” for Christians today. Indeed, we have every expectation that we will be rewarded for our Faith and for our efforts toward the propagation of that Faith.
And as an additional point, just as James and John had their mother to intercede on their behalf, so to do we have our Blessed Mother to intercede for us. And just like Salome, as followers of Christ, we should be confident in the glory that he has promised to us and seek it with all our hearts.
We should also make sure that we are prepared to do what it takes to achieve that goal; to ensure that we are ready, willing, and able to meet the challenges that we will face in our daily lives; to prepare by reading, learning, and inwardly digesting Holy Scripture and by availing ourselves of the Sacraments, especially the Body and Blood of Christ, as often as we can.
Finally, we should be ready to lead; to lead our family, friends, and loved ones to Christ; to lead others, by our witness and example, to his Church; to lead our brothers and sisters in Christ by our commitment and devotion to God and to His Church.
Ye shall drink indeed of my cup, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with. James, along with his brother John, likely didn’t fully comprehend what these words meant when Our Lord spoke them. But we know what they meant. And we know that they speak of that higher commitment to which we are called.
It was not enough for James to simply quit the family business. It was not enough to wander from town to town listening to Our Lord preach and watching him performing miracles. It was not enough to be present at his Transfiguration, nor even to witness his Resurrection and Ascension. No, there was something more yet required.
And that something more is what marks us as true followers of Christ. That something more is sacrifice; the sacrifice that means coming to Mass more often than just on Sunday; the sacrifice that means reading Holy Scripture, rather than just listening to it being read by others. The sacrifice that means talking with others about your Faith, even when it might be difficult, or when your audience might be hostile to the message; the sacrifice that means that the growth of the Church and of Gods Kingdom is your sole motivation in life; the sacrifice that means giving our lives totally to Christ.
Ye shall drink indeed of my cup, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with. This is the sacrifice that Jesus was talking about. This is the sacrifice that he was requiring of St. James. This is the sacrifice that he requires of us all, if we want to have a place in his Kingdom; this is the sacrifice that we must make if we wish, like our Patronal Saint, to be seated next to Our Lord in his Eternal Glory.
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