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  • Father David M. Knight

Immersed in Christ: Tuesday 7/25/17

Feast of St. James, Apostle

This James is named “the Greater,” or “Big James,” either because he was older, taller or called by Jesus before “James the Less” (“Little James”).

James and John were Zebedee’s sons. Jesus nicknamed them Boanerges, “Sons of Thunder.” They were

chosen with Peter to witness the Transfiguration and Agony in the Garden. James, the first apostle to be martyred, was beheaded by Herod Agrippa c. 44 A.D. A tradition says he preached in Spain and that in the ninth century his body was taken from Jerusalem to Santiago de Compostella, one of the most popular pilgrimage shrines of Europe. [1]

Their mother’s ambition for James and John in Matthew 20:20-28 sparked Jesus’ warning to Church authorities:

You know that among the pagans the rulers lord it over them and their great men make their authority felt. This is not to happen among you. No: anyone who wants to be great among you must be your servant, and anyone who wants to be first among you must be your slave.[2]

By this radical rule Jesus divorced position from prestige in his Church. Why would he set up such a principle?

2Corinthians 4:7-15 gives us an answer. Paul, having said, “All of us, seeing the glory of the Lord… are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another,” adds:

We are only earthenware jars that hold this treasure, to make it clear that such an overwhelming power comes from God and not from us. We are afflicted in every way…. always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies.

The absence of the human is the revelation of the divine. Church officials shun human marks of prestige so that people will focus on them only with the eyes of faith. We reverence bishops because of the authority they have from God. Anything that makes them look like human dignitaries is a distraction and a distortion of the truth, both for us and for them.

Humans are given power (ideally) because they are smarter or more qualified than others. So we assume they are in some way “above” us and treat them as such. Position in the Church, however, is based (ideally) on the assumption one is humbly subject to God, in touch with his Spirit and responsive toward the community. If we give Church officials the same signs of respect we give human authorities, we will inevitably see them in the same way, and not as equals. So to counter the corruption of power, Jesus tells them to make sure they present themselves as lower than the rest. For spiritual survival and the good of the Church, the first must insist on being last.

Initiative: Fear power and flee prestige. They are the devil’s recipe for pride.


Same Day July 25, 2017: Tuesday, Week Sixteen

The Responsorial (Exodus 15:1) repeats: “Let us sing to the Lord; he has covered himself in glory.” How did killing the Egyptians glorify God?

In Exodus 14:21 to 15:1, when the Israelites sang to God, “for he is gloriously triumphant; horse and chariot he has cast into the sea,” we should not see God as the stereotype of some misguided (and fictional) military nut who seeks “glory” by killing people. On the contrary, the rabbis tell that when the Egyptian army was destroyed, the angels broke out in praise. Then they looked over and saw God weeping. Asked why, God replied, “The Egyptians are my children too!”

The point of the Exodus story is that God saves: “The Lord saved Israel on that day from the power of the Egyptians.” God showed his power in opening a passage through the sea for his people. When the Egyptians tried to ride on God’s saving miracle to overtake and kill the Jews, God turned off the power and they died. We should never presume on God’s power to help us – or anyone — kill any of his children.

In Matthew 12: 46-50 Jesus tells us who God’s children are: “Whoever does the will of my heavenly Father is brother and sister and mother to me.” Jesus ignores divisions of race, nationality, religious affiliation, and even “righteousness” judged by external behavior. Jesus accepts as family all those who, in their hearts at least, are trying to “do the will of the Father.” Who, then, would dare judge another — even a terrorist suicide bomber or an American “special ops” assassin — on the deepest level of the heart? So like God weeping for the Egyptians, we weep over damage done to any of God’s children, not presuming to exclude anyone from the family. “Let us sing to the Lord.” It is through healing love, not violence, that “he has covered himself in glory.”

If God’s “glory” is the truth of God’s own being made evident, what reveals God’s glory more than the revelation of Jesus’ all-embracing love? And we, as his ministers, are called to continue this revelation. Through the ministry of expression — letting the divine gifts of faith, hope and love find visible expression in our bodily words and actions — we let the divine life, and above all the divine love, of Jesus continue to appear visibly on earth.

This is what the Eucharistic Prayer at Mass is all about: the celebration of Christ’s love, expressed on the cross, and drawing us into the same expression in the gift of ourselves to others.

But for this we have to “let the same mind be in us that was in Christ Jesus, who… did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave.…” We need to renounce power, prestige and prejudice, and surrender to “be Christ” to all. What better time to commit ourselves to this than during the Eucharistic Prayer when Christ invites us to offer our bodies with his?[3]

Initiative: Be a priest. Let Jesus live and act with you, in you, through you.

[1] Matthew 17:1. “Little James” was Jesus’ cousin, the son of Alpheus and of the Mary who was mother of Joses, and Salome (Mark 15:40). He was a leader in the Jerusalem, community. His input led the council in Jerusalem not to impose the religious rules of Jewish culture on Gentile converts (Acts 15:13-20). Paul gave him special prominence along with the Apostles, consulted with him as a “pillar” of the Church along with Peter and John, and reported a special appearance to James after the resurrection (Acts 12:17, 21:18, Galatians 1:19, 2:9; 1Corinthians 15:7). He was stoned to death A.D. 62. He, not the Apostle, is probably the author.the Letter of James.

[2] Matthew 20:25-27. Cp. Ignatius of Loyola, Spiritual Exercises, “The Two Standards,” nos. 136-147.

[3] Philippians 2: 5-11.

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