SAINT JAMES THE APOSTLE – TRINITY VIII
Introit: (Ps. 139) Mihi autem. Right dear, O God, are thy friends unto me, and held in highest honour: their rule and governance is exceeding stedfast. Ps. O Lord, thou hast searched me out and known me: thou knowest my down-sitting and mine up-rising. Glory be … Right dear …
Collect: Grant, O merciful God, that as thine holy Apostle Saint James, leaving his father and all that he had, without delay was obedient unto the calling of thy Son Jesus Christ, and followed him: so we, forsaking all worldly and carnal affections, may be evermore ready to follow thy holy commandments; through the same thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
(Trinity viii.) O God, whose never-failing providence ordereth all things both in heaven and earth: We humbly beseech thee to put away from us all hurtful things, and to give us those things which be profitable for us; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
OT Lesson: The word that Jeremiah the prophet spake unto Baruch the son of Neriah, when he had written these words in a book at the mouth of Jeremiah, in the fourth year of Jehoiakim the son of Josiah king of Judah, saying, Thus saith the Lord, the God of Israel, unto thee, O Baruch; Thou didst say, Woe is me now! for the Lord hath added grief to my sorrow; I fainted in my sighing, and I find no rest. Thus shalt thou say unto him, The Lord saith thus; Behold, that which I have built will I break down, and that which I have planted I will pluck up, even this whole land. And seekest thou great things for thyself? seek them not: for, behold, I will bring evil upon all flesh, saith the Lord: but thy life will I give unto thee for a prey in all places whither thou goest. (Jeremiah 45.1-5)
Gradual: (Ps. 45) Thou shalt make them princes in all lands: they shall remember thy Name, O Lord. V. Instead of thy fathers thou shalt have children: therefore shall the people give thanks unto thee.
Epistle: In those days: came prophets from Jerusalem unto Antioch. And there stood up one of them named Agabus, and signified by the Spirit that there should be great dearth throughout all the world: which came to pass in the days of Claudius Cæsar. Then the disciples, every man according to his ability, determined to send relief unto the brethren which dwelt in Judæa: which also they did, and sent it to the elders by the hands of Barnabas and Saul. Now about that time Herod the king stretched forth his hands to vex certain of the church. And he killed James the brother of John with the sword. And because he saw it pleased the Jews, he proceeded further to take Peter also. (Acts 11.27—12.3)
Alleluia. I have chosen you out of the world, that ye should go and bring forth fruit: and that your fruit should remain. Alleluia.
The Holy Gospel: At that time: James and John, the sons of Zebedee, come unto Jesus, saying, Master, we would that thou shouldest do for us whatsoever we shall desire. And he said unto them, What would ye that I should do for you? They said unto him, Grant unto us that we may sit, one on thy right hand, and the other on thy left hand, in thy glory. But Jesus said unto them, Ye know not what ye ask: can ye drink of the cup that I drink of? and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with? And they said unto him, We can. And Jesus said unto them, Ye shall indeed drink of the cup that I drink of; and with the baptism that I am baptized withal shall ye be baptized: but to sit on my right hand and on my left hand is not mine to give; but it shall be given to them for whom it is prepared. And when the ten heard it, they began to be much displeased with James and John. But Jesus called them to him, and saith unto them, Ye know that they which are accounted to rule over the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and their great ones exercise authority upon them. But so shall it not be among you: but whosoever will be great among you, shall be your minister: and whosoever of you will be the chiefest, shall be servant of all. For even the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many. (St Mark 10.35-45)
“And seekest thou great things for thyself? Seek them not.”
“Whosoever would be great among you must be your servant.”
Today we honour St James the Apostle, son of Zebedee and brother of St John the Evangelist. He is traditionally given the title “the Greater,” to distinguish him from another Apostle, James, Son of Alpheus, who is called “the Less.” These titles “greater” and “less,” however, are not intended to measure their level of greatness or holiness, but simply describe how frequently they are mentioned in the Gospels. James was a Galilean fisherman who, with his brother John, left his home, his father, and his trade, in obedience to the call of Jesus. The Lord beckoned and he followed, changing his life forever. Scripture paints James and John as zealous, and at times hot-headed, disciples, so that Jesus nicknamed the two “Boanerges,” or “sons of thunder.”
With Peter and John, James belonged to an especially privileged group of disciples whom Jesus chose to be witness to some of the most significant moments in His life—moments where they came to understand just who Jesus was. Thus James was there on Mount Tabor when the Lord was Transfigured, hearing the voice from heaven saying, “This is my Son, my Beloved. Listen to him!” He was there at the healing of Peter’s mother-in-law, at the raising of Jairus’ daughter, and at the Lord’s agony in the Garden of Gethsemane. Being part of that inner circle, they were clearly some of Jesus’ closest companions and confidants, and perhaps that is why the two brothers felt they had an “in” with Him and sought to take advantage of it in today’s Gospel lesson. It is interesting to note, however, that in Matthew’s account (as in the Missal and earlier editions of the BCP), this request comes from the lips of the mother of James and John, Salome, who is believed by some to have been the sister of the Blessed Virgin Mary, making her Our Lord’s aunt, and James and John His first cousins. Whatever the impetus behind it, it is an audacious request: “See to it that we sit, one at thy right hand and the other at thy left—the chief seats, places of highest honour—in thy glory.” But this very request shows that they are still missing the point, making the same mistake as their Jewish contemporaries: expecting that Messiah would be a powerful political leader or military warrior who would free Israel from the oppression of the Roman Empire and restore the kingdom of Israel as in the golden age of King David. Clearly, they had not been listening to what Jesus had been trying to teach them (and just a very short time before) about who He was, and who He was to be. He was not at all that kind of king, but rather a suffering servant, as He emphasizes again at the end of our reading. They are missing the whole point, not only of who Jesus is, but of who they are called to be.
Someone once said that the worst thing that could happen to us would be to have all our prayers answered as we wanted them. That is another way of saying, “Be careful what you wish for [because you just might get it]!” What if Jesus had given them exactly what they requested? Who was at His right hand and left hand in His glory? The two thieves on the crosses on either side of Him. So Jesus says patiently, “Boys, you don’t know what you’re asking.” And is that not what He often must say to us? That is why we need always to pray, “not my will, but thine be done.”
Jesus says, “You do not know what you are asking. Can you drink the cup I am to drink? Can you be immersed in the same bath of suffering as I?” They quickly and impetuously say, “We can.” But exactly what is this cup? Our Lord uses, as often He does, a powerful image drawn from everyday life which points to a deeper spiritual truth—that is to say, a parable. In ancient Middle Eastern culture, especially at formal meals, the head of the household would begin the meal by pouring wine into a cup and passing it around to all those sitting at the table, and it was expected that each would accept and drink of this gift. It was a symbol of the fellowship and unity among those gathered, and solidarity with the host. Jesus asks James and John, “Can you share my cup?” “Absolutely,” they say. But when is the next time we hear about Jesus’ cup? In the garden of Gethsemane, where Our Lord, in all His humanity, is pleading, “Father, let this cup pass from me.” That cup was His passion and death for the salvation of the world. Yet He prays, even as He teaches us to pray, “not my will but thine be done.” He asked James, along with Peter and John, to join that prayer with Him, but where were they? Fast asleep, totally unwilling to share in that cup—that hour of suffering with Him. And when He was arrested, they forsook Him and fled. Yet after Pentecost, their courage and zeal were renewed, and they “turned the world upside down,” proclaiming the good news of salvation through Jesus Christ. Discipleship prepared James to die for the Faith. Around 44 A.D., he was martyred, according to the 12th chapter of Acts, beheaded by Herod Agrippa, who sought to boost his own prestige and greatness, by making James the first of the Twelve to suffer martyrdom for the Name of Christ, and the only one recorded in the New Testament.
Although St James was martyred in Jerusalem, according to a very ancient tradition, before his martyrdom he went on an evangelizing mission far from the Sea of Galilee, across the Mediterranean and into Spain and Portugal. That same tradition claims that, after his death, his body was miraculously transported back across the sea in its stone coffin and came to rest at Compostela. During the Middle Ages his shrine there became one of the great centres of pilgrimage, and the Spaniards specially invoked his aid to support them in their long struggle against their Moorish overlords. To this day he remains one of the best loved Saints of the Spanish people. Over the last 2000 years, thousands have made pilgrimage to venerate St James’ relics in the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Spain. James did indeed share in His Lord’s cup of suffering and baptism of blood. And he did achieve greatness, although not the kind of greatness that he and his brother were seeking, but a far greater and eternal greatness—not on an earthly throne, but as a foundation stone of the heavenly Jerusalem. So, what really constitutes greatness?
In 2001, business author Jim Collins wrote a bestselling book entitled Good to Great. His opening words are intriguing:
Good is the enemy of great. And that is one of the key reasons why we have so little that becomes great. We don’t have great schools, principally because we have good schools. We don’t have great government, principally because we have good government. Few people attain great lives, in large part because it is just so easy to settle for a good life. (p 1)
And this lackadaisical philosophy has leached out in the Church, as well. Thus, we don’t have great churches, because we have good churches. We don’t have great Christians, because we have good Christians. But when it comes to our church, and to our Christian life, we should not settle for good, we should want to be great. But in saying this, we must be careful because, as we just heard in our Scripture readings, the type of greatness we seek makes a huge difference before God.
If we are seeking the kind of greatness that James and John sought for themselves in today’s Gospel, we, as they, have it all wrong. For them, greatness was all about honour, dominance, and power; about the highest position, the most prestigious place. The greatness they were seeking is the kind of greatness that stirs competitiveness, ignites jealousy, and generates anger—as we saw in the story—among those would-be rivals who fear a loss of prestige for themselves. This is the kind of greatness sought by the rulers of this world who are always looking to control and dominate others—what Martin Luther King, Jr., in one of his sermons, referred to as “the Drum Major Instinct.” We all want to lead the parade, he says, noting that this impulse traces back to infancy when our very first cry is itself a bid for attention. As we grow up, this instinct gives rise to competition with our neighbours as we try, not just to keep up with, but tooutdothe Joneses; it distorts our personalities as we crave attention for ourselves; it even drives nations to war. But then along comes Jesus and says: This is not my way. Whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must become your slave.Greatness, according to Jesus, is about humble service.Even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, to give His very life for others.This self-giving of the Son of Man sets us free from slavery to the ways of the world that are about self-seeking and domination over others, so that we can serve as Jesus served—even if it results in death.
“The princes of the Gentiles lord it over them,” Jesus says, “but it shall not be so among you.” The ways of God’s Kingdom are very different—its kingship is the kingship of a servant, and its greatness is found in willing obedience. Its warfare is “not with swords loud clashing, nor roll of stirring drums, but deeds of love and mercy.” Its struggles and conflicts are much deeper and more crucial—the battle for the human heart; and its enemies are the subtle demons of greed and ambition, of pride, envy, hatred, and the like. “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who … took upon himself the form of a servant … and became obedient even unto death.”
The greatness that Jesus proclaims is not to be found in worldly power, pride and ambition, and the satisfying of earthly desires, but rather, in the denial of all these. “My kingdom,” He says, “is not from hence.” And its glory is death to self and rebirth to God—a renewal of heart and soul and mind. The signs of His glory are His humility, His suffering, His passion—His Body broken for us and His Blood poured out—“He reigns and triumphs from the tree,” as Fortunatus’ great hymn Vexilla Regis proclaims. And that is the glory which we celebrate day by day in the Liturgy of the Church, as we show forth His death until He comes again. “Imitate what you celebrate,” says the ancient wisdom of the Church. “The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ?” Think about those words: Imitate what you celebrate.
In Baptism, we are pledged to renounce the world, the flesh, and the devil: we are pledged to renounce the vain pomps and glories of this world. Yet over and over again, every day, in a thousand little ways, in our relations with one another, in the things that we desire and the things we neglect, we are tempted and taken in by them. And so, over and over again, we must be recalled by the Passion of our Saviour and the witness of the Saints: “It shall not be so among you … Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus.” Our being born again—not from this world, but from above—is an ongoing struggle; and our prayer for the coming of God’s Kingdom in us must be new every day.
So, what constitutes greatness? And what is keeping us from being great? What is missing from our Church is commitment to service. Once we make that Christian commitment, we discover, not earthly success, but greatness of a different kind—greatness that comes through the servant way of Our Lord Jesus. Christ comes to each of us and offers His cup: a certain measure of happiness and sorrow; of joy and suffering; of difficulty, and even tragedy; yet also a share in His glory and His Kingdom. Can we drink it? That is the great challenge. That cup represents not just your life, but Christ’s life. It is not just wine—it is His very life-Blood. Can you drink into that fellowship and oneness of life with the Lord? Not just an ordinary life, but an extraordinary share in His life; not good, but great; that is what Our Lord offers us, if we will drink His cup.
Today, as we keep the feast of St James, Apostle and Martyr, let us remember that an Apostle is one who is sent (“As the Father hath sent me, even so send I you”), while a Martyr is one who witnesses (“Ye shall be my witnesses”). To celebrate such a festival is to recall that we too are called to apostleship and martyrdom; we too are sent to witness to that new life which is God’s Kingdom within us, sent to counter the philosophy of this world in which “the Princes of the Gentiles lord it over them,” offering a better, and a greater way. “And seekest thou great things for thyself? Seek them not.” Rather, seek great things for Christ and His Kingdom, and yield yourselves His willing servants and instruments of His glory. May we have the zeal and courage, the grace and humility, to be faithful followers of Our Lord Jesus Christ and, forsaking all worldly and carnal affections, may be evermore ready to follow His holy commandments. And may we know that, through all life’s difficulties, we have great Saints, like St James, to intercede for our efforts for the glory of God and the spread of His Kingdom.
“And seekest thou great things for thyself? Seek them not.”
“But whosoever would be great among you must be your servant. For even the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”
Collect: Be thou, O Lord, the sanctifier and defender of thy people: that being aided by the protection of thine Apostle James, they may both please thee by their conversation, and serve thee with a quiet mind; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
And may the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in the knowledge and love of God, and of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord: and the blessing of God Almighty, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, be amongst you and remain with you always. Amen.