The Feast of St. James, Apostle
(2 Cor 4: 7 – 15; Ps 126; Matt 20: 20 – 28)
“We hold this treasure in earthen vessels, that the surpassing power may be of God and not from us” – notice: St. Paul included himself – “We hold…” These are words from a man especially selected by God, an apostle whose words brought people to belief, whose touch brought healing speak loudly of humility, of belief, of conviction that God’s power works through ordinary human beings – surely Paul, all his life, lived in wonder at this awesome truth.
The Gospel presents some earthen vessels – a mother and her two sons; obviously they approach because they have an important issue in mind, at least very important to them. The mother is no “shrinking violet” – after giving Jesus her homage, she gets right to the point: “Command that these two sons of mine sit, one at your right and the other at your left in your Kingdom.” She commands the Lord to command! There is a good amount of prideful ambition in this and an ardent desire for her boys to get the best positions in the Kingdom – the rest of the disciples can fend for themselves.
I think Jesus smiled at her and James and John – a smile that disarmed them and then a question: “Can you drink the chalice that I am going to drink?” Their answer “We can” is quick, too quick and Jesus counters, “My chalice you will indeed drink!” His words will come to pass.
And both did indeed drink Jesus’ chalice and it was the surpassing power of God that was their strength. James will experience the wrath of Herod and will be beheaded for his faith in the Lord Jesus. John will live a long life and will drink the chalice of ﬁdelity even into exile. Their “We can” proved to be true but it was not their own power – they had tasted divine power. They would be the ﬁrst to admit it.
We gather here to celebrate Word and Sacrament as a community of earthen vessels – fragile, chipped, imperfect – all of which we know and acknowledge. Unpleasant as this might be, it helps to keep us humble. We gather to receive – like a vessel is made to receive – the surpassing power of our God so that like our Lord and Savior we will serve one another and by our redemptive lives bring Christ to our world, not unlike the Apostles, James and John.