Saint James, Apostle

“Saint James, Apostle”
A reflection on Mark 10:35-45 and Acts 12:1-3
Feast of Saint James, Apostle
©️2023 Gloria M. Chang

And James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came up to him and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” And he said to them, “What do you want me to do for you?” And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” And they said to him, “We are able.” And Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you will drink, and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized, but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.” And when the ten heard it, they began to be indignant at James and John. And Jesus called them to him and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Mark 10:35-45 (ESV); cf. Matthew 20:20-28

About that time Herod the king laid violent hands on some who belonged to the church. He killed James the brother of John with the sword, and when he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded to arrest Peter also. This was during the days of Unleavened Bread.

Acts 12:1-3 (ESV)

St. James the Great, Apostle. Detail of the mosaic in the Basilica of San Vitale, Ravenna, Italy.
© José Luiz Bernardes Ribeiro / CC BY-SA 4.0

The First Apostle Martyred

On the way to Jerusalem, Jesus predicts, for the third time, his impending passion: “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles. And they will mock him and spit on him, and flog him and kill him. And after three days he will rise” (Mark 10:33-34).

In the next scene, with cheeky boldness, James and John approach Jesus with the open-ended request “to do for us whatever we ask of you.” Jesus’ passion rhetoric slips past their radar. Presuming their master’s favor, they covet the highest posts in his kingdom on his “right” and “left”—emblems of prestige and power. Jesus tests their readiness to drink his “cup” of immolation through “baptism” into his death. Selfless love opens the door to the kingdom. 

By the grace of God, the brassy become lamblike. When we fast-forward to the Acts of the Apostles, Jesus’ warnings of apostolic persecution come to pass. A Spirit-filled James willingly swallows the cup of Christ’s self-giving love under Herod’s sword, becoming the first apostle to be martyred.

James drank the cup of the Lord
When Herod slew him with the sword.

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