St. James the Apostle (2)

St. Paul’s description in today’s First Reading, “We hold this treasure in earthen vessels,” summarizes perfectly the fragility and power of the Apostles. In today’s Gospel we see James and John trying to achieve lasting power. Their weakness is ambition. In Matthew’s account they don’t even request it personally, they ask their mother to request it; what does that say for their power? Our Lord teaches them that their true source of power will be the chalice of suffering.

We can easily fall into the trap of thinking that if we just had a little more status, a little more help, and little more organization, we’d be unstoppable in achieving our goals. James wanted authority and wanted to be able to fulminate towns; instead he received martyrdom at the hands of Herod. He fulfilled his vocation and we commemorate him more today for being a faithful witness of the Gospel than for having authority and power.

Every Christian bears a treasure, but in order to preserve it and use it for the purpose for which it was intended he must be aware of his own fragility and weakness. Let’s not focus on eliminating our weakness; instead let’s focus on glorifying God through the treasures he has entrusted to us, just as St. James did.

Readings: 2 Corinthians 4:7–15; Psalm 126:1b–6; Matthew 20:20–28. See also St. James the Apostle.

St. James the Apostle

Today we celebrate the feast of St. James the Apostles, the brother of St. John the Evangelist, one of the Lord’s closest disciples, and the first Apostle to follow Our Lord all the way to martyrdom and beyond. Today’s Gospel reminds us of the moment when James and John sought power and glory alongside Our Lord, and he prepared them for a power and glory that would be nothing like this world had ever seen. When Jesus sounded them out about whether they were willing to drink the same chalice as him, maybe they didn’t know what they were getting into, but they did know that they wanted to follow Our Lord wherever and however he chose. What went through their minds after his Passion? John was there, James was who knows where.

The Acts of the Apostles tell us that James was beheaded on Herod’s orders (see Acts 12:1-4) to score political points with the Jewish authorities. As James went to his death, was he thinking of that “chalice” Our Lord had mentioned? Was he thinking of the teaching Jesus had imparted to all the Apostles when they were incensed about Jame’s and John’s ambition: “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and the great ones make their authority over them felt. But it shall not be so among you…”? James was at the mercy of a ruler who was the antithesis of how Jesus taught them to be, and acting exactly as Jesus had warned against. He knew how he had to respond: “to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.” His witness to the point of martyrdom echoed, and will continue to echo, throughout history and into eternity.

Are we afraid of having to even sip from Our Lord’s “chalice?” Are we prepared to follow him no matter what? We are called to take up our cross every day, big or small, and follow Christ, not just to suffer something for him and for others, but to give witness that death and suffering don’t have the last word. Let’s ask St. James today to help us sip from Our Lord’s “chalice” and persevere in the path he traces out for us, no matter what crosses it may entail.

Readings: 2 Corinthians 4:7–15; Psalm 126:1b–6; Matthew 20:20–28.