Feast of St. James the Greater, Apostle
St. James is many things: son of Zebedee, brother of St. John the Evangelist, the “James” of the famous “Peter, James and John” triad who were with Jesus in some of the most spectacular moments of His ministry. What’s more is that tradition holds him to be the first of the apostles to be martyred and hence this day the Church’s priests clothe themselves in red. To be a martyr is to profess, even to the shedding of one’s own blood, that there is more to Jesus and the Christian faith than meets the eye. The mother of James and John learns this, along with her ambitious boys, in quite a curious way.
Seeming to have an idea of where this “Jesus movement” is headed, Mrs. Zebedee asks Jesus to give her boys positions of high honor and authority in the kingdom He will establish. After all, they have been loyal members of His group since its founding days. Then Jesus says, in so many words, “There is more to this than you think.”
Even her boys do not understand, saying they can take whatever is coming their way; in reality it is only John that ends up having a place of honor at Jesus’s side when He establishes the Kingdom from the throne of the Cross.
Yet this Kingdom is not built on honors and power; at least, not according to the sense of the world. It is a Kingdom in which all the citizens of the realm live according to the example of their King. St. Ignatius speaks of this in the Spiritual Exercises when he has us contemplate Jesus as a King delivering the following speech: “It is My will to conquer all the world and all enemies and so to enter into the glory of My Father; therefore, whoever would like to come with Me is to labor with Me, that following Me in the pain, he may also follow Me in the glory.”
The mother of James and John wanted her sons to live like kings in the coming Kingdom; Jesus desires the very same, and He desires this for us all. He wants not only for us to live like kings, but to live the very life of the King, and while this means we share, too, in His suffering it also means we share in His glory, His victory, His peace and all that comes to Him from the Father. We do not know if Mrs. Zebedee ever knew what happened to her sons, with James being beheaded by Herod in Jerusalem (Acts 12:1-2) and his brother eventually being exiled to the island of Patmos. But surely she would be proud of the fact that the whole world now venerates their memory. May we, too, hear Jesus’ invitation to serve Him and to trust Him, that in laboring with Him in building the Kingdom we might also rejoice with Him at its completion.
St. James the Great, pray for us.