July 25, 2021
This Sunday the universal church celebrates the life and death of St James. I hope that you gathered from the readings that James was the brother of St John, collectively referred to as the ‘Sons of Thunder’ by Jesus. James and John were two thirds of Jesus’ inner circle of three (the other being Peter). Across the gospels, James does not have much dialogue compared to John and Peter but he was always present. He was there at the raising of Jarius’ daughter, he was dazzled and confused at the Transfiguration and fell asleep in Gethsemane after witnessing Jesus’ agony.
I want to talk briefly about what I admire and find challenging about James.
James and John, along with Peter and Andrew, were the first disciples that Jesus called. It was to this group of fishermen that Jesus called to become fishers of men. I would really like to know what was so attractive about Jesus, what was it that made them drop their nets and follow him? It reads like they did so immediately. They left everything, their father, the family business to follow this itinerant preacher around.
What about their father? Poor old Zebedee literally left holding the nets. Socially and culturally this would have been a huge deal. Zebedee would have assumed that the family fishing biz would automatically go to James and John. Particularly James as he was the eldest. We do not know what happened to Zebedee & Sons Fishing Inc but I can imagine it was a challenge.
I cannot help but be challenged by the immediacy of James, John, Peter and Andrew to drop everything, take such a huge risk to follow Jesus. Why do I not react the same way? Why doesn’t the church? I want to work harder at knowing more about Jesus, not just academically but personally.
The second aspect of James that I admire is his presence. He witnessed some amazing things and we do not know what he thought as there is not much record of anything he said. His biggest contribution is recorded in Mark 13 when he points out the large stones and large buildings to Jesus, Peter, Andrew and John. This observation leads to some questions for Jesus which sparks a long discourse on the end times.
The Matthew reading is also fascinating to me. Did they have their mother ask Jesus for this favour? Did they put her up to this? In some ways this shows that despite being part of the inner circle, James and John did not fully understand what Jesus was doing. Jesus replied that he was not able to grant this favour. Jesus had just told them and the other disciples that they were going to Jerusalem and he would be killed.
James also struggled with presence. While he was in the garden with Jesus, it would appear that James disappeared with the rest of the disciples while Peter and John followed to see what would happen to Jesus. James’ mother is reported to have been at the crucifixion as was his brother John. There is no mention of him.
Where did it come apart for James? Sometimes in our zeal, when things do not come together as we thought, we walk away. Maybe this is what James did in those moments that were so overwhelmingly difficult. What do we do in those moments?
On a more positive note, it looks like James was present with the disciples in their grief and disbelief in the resurrection appearances of Jesus. James was restored along with the rest of the disciples on the beach. He received the Great Commission to go and make disciples and baptize them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
It would appear that he did. This Son of Thunder got his thunder back. James lived for a few more years, it seems likely that he was the first apostle to be martyred. His is the only martyrdom recorded in the New Testament. John likely died as a very old man, spending the majority of his life without his older brother.
History and tradition claim that James’ body was taken to Santiago de Compostela in Spain where his shrine still attracts millions of pilgrims (Christian and otherwise).
St James once again challenges my notion of the immediacy of the gospel of Jesus. He willingly dropped the fishing net, left a secure job and family honour to follow an unknown entity at the time. I wish that I could follow Jesus with that same abandon. James lived the rest of his life spreading the message of the Gospel with expectation and fervency.
There is something about Jesus. James witnessed some amazing things, the raising of the dead, the Transfiguration and Jesus’ agony but still did not fully understand what this meant. He heard the teachings of Jesus directly from his mouth. Yet he struggled to remain present in the most difficult moments. Where do I go when it all gets a bit too much?
James also experienced the magnificent love and grace of God and was restored to a right relationship. That love and grace, a life of hope has been made available to all of us through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. I pray that we too can grab on for ourselves.