• Father David M. Knight

Father David's Reflection for the Feast of St. James, the Apostle (Ordinary Time)


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.

[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.

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