Thursday, 25 July 2019 : Feast of St. James, Apostle (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Red

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we celebrate the feast of one of the great Twelve Apostles of Our Lord, namely St. James the Apostle, also known as St. James the Greater, to distinguish him from another St. James, that is St. James the Lesser or St. James the Just, who was considered as one of the relatives of the Lord and the first Bishop of Jerusalem. St. James the Apostle was the brother of St. John the Apostle and Evangelist, both of whom were the sons of Zebedee.

It was the same St. James and St. John who were mentioned in today’s Gospel passage, as they came together with their mother, asking the Lord Jesus for special favours and position among the disciples, seeking the place of honour by His side when His glory days were coming. The other disciples, especially the other members of the Twelve were very angry at what the two brothers had done, and only after the Lord rebuked all of them that they simmered down.

We have to understand the context of what happened at that time in order to appreciate better the significance of what we have heard in the Scriptures today. At that time, the understanding and perception among the Jewish people about the coming of the Messiah or the Saviour promised by God were that the Messiah would be a mighty and conquering King, in the mould of David, His ancestor.

The people thought of the Messiah, which they thought the Lord Jesus was, as someone Who would restore the kingdom of Israel of old, reliving and recreating once again the glorious days of the kingdom of David and Solomon, when the people of God were at the pinnacle of their glory, power and majesty among the people of the world. That was why, in several occasions, the Lord in fact had to hide from the people who had wanted to make and even force Him to become their King.

It is this same understanding and perception which caused the two Apostles, St. James and St. John, to seek the Lord together with their mother, to seek glory, honour and power from the Lord, by asking Him to give them special favours over that of the rest. After all, if a King was about to rise to great power, it would have been good for whoever who stood by closest to Him, was it not?

That was where the Lord corrected their way of thinking and dispelled the false ideas that they might have in their minds when they decided to follow Him. He essentially reminded them that His kingdom and His rule were totally unlike any other in this world. Following the Lord would not be anything like following any other leaders and rulers in this world, as if they sought power, glory, honour and other forms of worldly satisfaction, they would be disappointed.

Instead, the Lord made it clear and plain that in following Him, His disciples have chosen a life of struggle and perhaps even plenty of sufferings and challenges in this world. It was what He meant when He mentioned the cup that He was about to drink, the cup of suffering that He had to endure, the suffering and pain, the burden and the heavy responsibility of the Cross. And just as He had to suffer and be rejected by the world, He revealed that His disciples likely would have to suffer in the same way too.

That was what St. James endured as he became a faithful follower of the Lord from then on, carrying out faithfully the mission which God has entrusted to him. It was told by Apostolic tradition that he went to spread the faith in lands as far as the present day Spain, where the great shrine to this saint now exists in the famous Santiago de Compostela in northern parts of Spain. St. James had to endure many challenges along his journey, and in the end, he was also among the first to be martyred.

According to the Acts of the Apostles, St. James was the first of the Apostles to be martyred, when king Herod wanted to please the Jewish people, arrested St. James and beheaded him as a show to gain favour with the Jewish religious and community elites, the chief priests and the Pharisees. The other Apostles and disciples of the Lord too, eventually, would come to suffer in the way that St. James had suffered.

But all of them have moved on from what we have seen in our Gospel passage today, the preoccupation with worldly concerns and desires for things like power, fame, influence, wealth and other forms of worldly satisfaction and joy. They have accepted the Lord’s cup of suffering courageously and faithfully, living up to their faith and devoting themselves to be witnesses for His sake, and working to the best of their abilities to spread the Good News.

As mentioned in the first reading today by St. Paul in his Epistle to the Corinthians, all of us have received a great treasure from Christ Himself, the true treasure of our lives that can never be lost from us, unless we ourselves reject the treasure that Christ has given to us. This most precious treasure is none other than the promise of eternal life and glory, true happiness and joy of sharing in God’s inheritance through the salvation which He has brought unto us.

It is hope in that promise, the promise of the great and true treasures of the Lord that helped the Apostles, St. James and his fellow witnesses of faith, to persevere even through the most difficult persecutions and challenges, knowing that while all the treasures of this world, the treasures of power, of human glory, of fame and of wealth can be destroyed and perish, the true treasure that is assured for us in God will never be destroyed.

Now, brothers and sisters in Christ, are we willing and are we able to follow in the footsteps of St. James and the other holy Apostles of the Lord in their dedication to the Lord? Are we able to dedicate our time, effort and focus into the service for the greater glory of God? We have all been called to be the successors of the Apostles, following in the path that they have started, through their courageous deeds and efforts.

May the Lord continue to guide our path, and may He continue to encourage us so that we may seek to live like the Apostles, shunning the tempting desires of the pleasures and the glories of this world, and instead seek the true treasure that lies in God alone, by serving Him with all of our hearts and with all of our strengths from now on. May God bless us all and our good endeavours. Amen.

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