July 25

St. James the Elder

As the brother of John and son of a man called "Zebedee" (meaning "thunder"), St. James was the first bishop of Jerusalem (hence the title "the Elder"). As leader of the mother church, he was executed by King Agrippa I in Acts 12:1-12. While his missionary efforts were local, his impact was felt throughout the Synoptic gospels and Acts. He suffered and died for the faith, just as his Master did for him.

First Reading: 2 Corinthians 4:7-15

7 We have this (poor) treasure in earthen pots, so that the (transcendent) superiority of power might be from God, and not from us. 8 In everything, (we are) being afflicted but not being in anguish, doubting but not despairing, 9 persecuted but not abandoned, thrown down but not destroyed, 10 always bearing the dead state of JESUS in the body, so that the life of JESUS in our body might be made clear. 11 For we, the living, (are) always being given over to death through JESUS, so that the life of JESUS might also be made clear in our flesh (that is) subject to death. 12 So, death is at work in us, but life in you. 13 Having the same spirit of trust according to (that) having been written (in Scripture), "I believed, therefore I spoke," 14 and we believe, therefore we speak, knowing that the (One) having raised the LORD JESUS will raise us with and will stand (us) by you (in glory). 15 For all (this is) for you, so that grace, having expanded to the many, might increase the thanks given to the glory of God.

4:13 "I believed, therefore I spoke" came from Psalm 116:10:

I believed, therefore I said, "I was greatly afflicted." (World English Bible)

Paul argued for this passage in the context of apostolic suffering. As an apostle, Paul believed in and spoke for the Good News. The result was affliction, persecution, and near death experiences. Yet, his faith strengthened him and pushed him on, despite the costs.

St. Paul evoked the metaphor of pottery to describe the human condition vis a vis God's omnipotence. We are fragile and empty, like a clay pot. Yet, we do have some use. Paul reflected on his experience as an apostle. Spreading the Good News brought disappointment, stress, and danger, yet he did not abandon his calling. In fact, Paul personalized the tough times; he compared them to the death we carry in our bodies. From the point of conception, death is our fate, the same fate Jesus encountered on the cross. But, through faith, we have hope, for, while we experience death in the body, like the dead state of Jesus, (i.e., the tough times), we also have eternal life. We have this life now, not as a metaphor or analogy, but tangibly, palpably in the Word, in the Eucharist, and in the community. These reveal the real presence of the Lord among us.

St. Paul listed one reason to be an apostle. He risked reputation, mental or emotional health, even death itself, so he could spread the message of Jesus crucified. What Christ did for St. Paul, the apostle was willing to do for others. He was willing to die so others could have the life of Christ (4:12). He was willing to do this so he could share that life with the community at the end of time. The grace and mercy Paul received he shared with others; in this way, grace expanded and increased, so all could be saved, so all could give God glory.

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Gospel: Matthew 20:20-28

20 Then, the mother of sons of Zebedee, along with her sons, approached HIM, giving (HIM) reverence and asking something from HIM. 21 HE said to her, "What do you want?" She said to HIM, "Announce that these two sons of mine can sit, one on YOUR right, the other on YOUR left, in YOUR Kingdom." 22 Having answered, JESUS said to them, "You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink from the cup which I am about to drink?" They said, "We are able." 23 HE said to them, "Indeed, you will drink MY cup, but, to sit on MY right or on MY left, [this] is not MINE to give, but (it is) for whom it has been prepared by MY Father." 24 Having heard (the conversation), the ten were indignant at the two brothers. 25 Having summoned them, JESUS said, "You know that the rulers of the nations exercise power over them and the great assert (complete) authority over them. 26 It will not be thus among you, but whoever desires to be great among you will be your servant, 27 and whoever desires to be first among you will be your slave. 28 Indeed, the SON OF Man did not come to be served but to serve, and to give HIS life (as a) ransom in place of many."

20:28 "...to give HIS life (as a) ransom in place of many." The notion of payment or some sort of quid pro quo cannot be inferred from this statement. This phrase is a Hebraism that means liberation. In other words, Jesus did not die to pay some cosmic debt, but to free people from the bondage of sin and death. "Ransom" did not mean payback for past transgressions, but a new life in freedom.

The question of place in the Kingdom is a thorny one. As the old saying goes, "Everyone wants to go to heaven, but nobody wants to die." We all want to live with God forever, but we are not sure we want to pay the price. However, if the price will garner great personal glory, well, then, we might reconsider...

This was the logic of the Zebedee sons. Unlike the narrative in Mark 10:35-45, the mother of James and John (not named in Matthew's account) approached Jesus with the question of place in the Kingdom. The brothers must have assumed their leader would be a king or general in God's righteous battle against the Romans. Of course they would suffer for the cause IF they could enjoy the fruits of the victory. By sitting on the right and the left of Jesus in the Kingdom, they would be second (right) and third (left) in command. They would have real political and economic power.

Jesus replied to their request in two ways. First, he affirmed they would suffer for the Kingdom, but leadership under God's reign was a question of divine prerogative. Second, when the others overheard their question and became incensed at their audacity, Jesus used the question as a teachable moment about true leadership. To be a leader is to serve; this point was made emphatic with the doublet of "great..servant" and "first...slave" (10:26-27). True power did not come from enslaving others, but by freeing them. Jesus came with this mission in mind, for, as the Son of Man, he came to "to give HIS life (as a) ransom in place of many."

On the feast of St. James, let's consider the price of faith. Faith brings us great rewards, but can bring great personal cost. We want to sit with Jesus in the Kingdom, but are we willing to drink from his cup? But, the real question is deeper. Are we willing to suffer, in order to bring others to Christ?

That is the real question of faith.

What are you willing to give us for faith? What are you willing to give up for the faith of others?