The Feast of St. James the Apostle
A Word about the Readings
by Father Gethin
(The readings may be found here)
Today the church commemorates the life and witness of St. James, Zebedee’s son, and brother to St. John.
There is a good deal of confusion surrounding the figures who share the name James from the New Testament: who, for instance, authored the epistle of James? What we are to make of Paul’s phrase ‘James, the brother of the Lord’, and who might be the others sharing the name ‘James’ in the Gospels and Acts? One other James—the son of Alphaeus—clearly was an Apostle. A James is named among the group described as Jesus’ ‘brothers and sisters’ in Mark and Matthew’s Gospels. Some suppose that this is the same James to whom Paul refers in Galatians (1:19). One possibility which might shed some light here stems from Christ’s mandate from the Cross, that St. John should be son and caretaker to the Blessed Virgin Mary. From this point of view, James, the brother of John, might as a term of honour or distinction later in the church’s life, have been called ‘the brother of the Lord.’ In any case, it is his place as disciple and apostle which concerns us today.
The Gospel for his feast recalls the request that he and John should sit next to Jesus in His kingdom. Together with Peter they had only just seen their Lord gloriously transfigured on the mount, and no doubt longed to be near to that glory in paradise. Jesus patiently helps them, and us, to see how the kingdom of God is not measured by worldly notions of stature and honour; rather, that Christian honour is a matter of our devotion to Christ’s calling, that to be His followers means to accept humbly His life of service and suffering, “Ye shall indeed drink of the cup that I drink of; and with the baptism that I am baptized withal shall ye be baptized.” In the end James would bear out that baptism with the price of his own life, so to find his true heavenly place as one who wears the martyr’s crown. And while such sacrifice is never to be sought after unnecessarily, we are all called, as the children of that kingdom, to bear witness to our King, which is what martyr means after all: to bear witness.
By coincidence, the feast of St. James falls this year on the eighth Sunday after Trinity, and in the lections for this week we find a remarkable reflection on just these principles of discipleship: “My brethren, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live after the flesh. For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live. For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God… The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God. And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified with him.” (Rom. 8:12-17). Our glory is a matter of eternal blessing, which is a consequence of earthly sacrifice and humility. As Jesus tells the disciples in this week’s gospel: “Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit.” The fruits of the Kingdom of God are the fruits of the Spirit, who is the bond of all heavenly life and goodness: “love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.” And should it be St. James who wrote the epistle bearing his name, we find from him there, not surprisingly, a wonderful commendation to us who labour after such heavenly glories:
“Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning. Of His own will He brought us forth by the word of truth, that we might be a kind of first fruits of His creatures. So then, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath; for the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God. Therefore lay aside all filthiness and overflow of wickedness, and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.”