Feast of St James the Greater
16th Tuesday in Ordinary Time
St James did not immediately become a saint on the day when he left his home and the fishing business in obedience to the call of Christ. He brought all of his sinful baggage with him, and some of that comes out in this morning’s Gospel. St Matthew says it was his mother who made the request of Jesus, but St Mark says it was not only his mother but James himself who made the request, which suggests that he may have put his mother up to it.
In any case, Jesus saw through the request, because he replied, not to the mother, but to James and his brother John: You do not know what you are asking. Can you drink the chalice that I am going to drink? Jesus knows that James is thinking only of the kingdom, and when Christ comes in glory, he wants to be number two, along with his brother John.
But Jesus does not want James to be thinking of the kingdom in those terms. James is thinking of how good he’ll look when he’s right up there with Christ, and Christ wants to let him know what he’s in for if he wants to reign with Christ. He will have to experience suffering before he enters the kingdom. Jesus then explained this suffering in terms of a chalice, a bitter chalice that has to be swallowed. To swallow all kinds of bitterness is the entry price for getting into the kingdom. Can James ( and John) do that?
And these two apostolic dudes come back with the Aramaic equivalent of “Sure”. They had no problem with suffering, if it meant they would wind up looking better than the other apostles. Jesus goes along with their willingness to suffer, but told them that only the Father would say who would sit at Christ’s right hand and his left.
When the ten heard this, they became indignant at the two brothers. But they were no better than James or John. They were thinking along the very same lines as the ones they were criticizing. Not long before this morning’s passage in the Gospel, the same apostles were arguing among themselves as to which of them was the greatest. And we are no better than any of the apostles. What most annoys us in other people is very often a fault that we ourselves have. We see the faults of others, but are too blind to know and correct our own.
Like St James, we do not immediately become monks on the day when we leave our home in obedience to the call of Christ. We bring all of our sinful baggage with us, and some of that comes out in the course of community life. We may do things, not for the love of God, but because it will make us look good. And often we think it can make us look good if we can make others look bad, pointing out the stupid things they do.
But Abba Paphnutius has a story about how that’s never a good idea. He said, “When I was walking along the road, I happened to lose my way and found myself near a village, and I saw some people who were talking about evil things. So I stood still, praying for my own sins. Then behold, an angel came, holding a sword, and he said to me, ‘Paphnutius, all those who judge their brothers perish by this sword, but because you have not judged, but have humbled yourself before God, saying that you have sinned, your name is written in the book of the living!’”
You want to go to heaven and be with St James? Do what Paphnutius did.