Saturday, July 25, 2009

James: Apostle & Martyr

James was clearly a VIP among the followers of Jesus. He was one of the first four chosen to be part of the company of Jesus. A fisherman by trade, he didn't hestitate to answer the call to be a fisher of people. James is always part of the inner clique close at hand for key events, e.g., the healing of Peter's mother-in-law, the reviving of Jairus' daughter, the Transfiguration, accompanying Jesus, and promptly falling asleep, in Gethsemane garden. On the darker side, Mark comments that Jesus nicknamed James and his brother, John, "Sons of Thunder", so there was undoubtedly some "history" there. (I've always pictured them as hell-bent motorcyclists in my fantasy movie!) And he and John, at least in Mark's version, also had the gall to ask Jesus for favored treatment: two reserved box seats, one on each side, in Jesus' glory, for which they incurred the anger and disgust of their fellow apostles! And, like most of the others except John, James was nowhere to be found at the Crucifixion, though his mother was there along with Mary Magdalene and Salome.

James did, however, distinguish himself by giving his life for his Master, and, in fact, was the first to do so. Luke notes in Acts 12:1-2: "About that time King Herod laid violent hands upon some who belonged to the church. He had James, the brother of John, killed with the sword..."

That's pretty much all we know about James, despite the long-standing tradition about his Spanish connection and his shrine at Compostela, one of the greatest pilgrimage destinations through the centuries. Hundreds of churches are named after St. James in England, though he was never near the British Isles, and he's the patron of both Nicaragua and Guatemala, though, again, he never had the pleasure of visiting those countries. Amazing how one rather insignificant Middle Eastern soul can make such a global difference. I once read about a metropolitan area with a 200,00+ population where a proposal to build a new library was defeated by only 10 votes! A lot of folks thought the proposal would easily pass, so they stayed home. Those who voted against it were probably wondering if theirs was the deciding ballot. It happens.

You and I can make a difference despite our seemingly ordinary and insigificant lives. Jesus calls us, as he called James and the other apostles, to be faithful, not necessarily successful, though that's desirable and wonderful if it happens. Peter learned at one point not to consider ordinary things as "common". And the exhortation of Hebrews reminds us: "Let mutual love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels unawares."

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