James, son of Zebedee and Salome, was one of the first disciples of Jesus. He was a fisherman, son of a fisherman, and was called by Jesus, along with his brother John, from his boat on the Sea of Galilee. He followed immediately, being a man who acted decisively and sometimes brashly all his life. Jesus called James and John the “Sons of Thunder.” They were two of his closest disciples, present throughout his ministry, including private experiences such as the Transfiguration and the Agony in the Garden.
Two men named James were among the twelve Apostles. James, son of Zebedee, and James, son of Alphaeus. James, son of Zebedee, is known as James the Greater. James, son of Alphaeus, is called James the Lesser. The use of “Greater” and “Lesser” was always puzzling to me. But what I have learned is that the terms probably referred more to the relative size of the men than to any sense of being greater or lesser in zeal, holiness, intelligence, or any of the many other qualities we treasure in people. It was probably like we find today among young men. I’m thinking particularly about two friends of one of my sons. Both are named Dan. But one is taller. So he’s called “Big Dan.” I suspect that James the Greater today might be called “Big Jim.”
One of the stories told about Big Jim was the day his mother approached Jesus and asked if her sons, Jim and John, could sit at His right and left hands in the Kingdom. Jesus told her that she didn’t know what she was asking. Could they drink of the same chalice from which he would drink? They confidently assured Him that they could. He confirmed that they would indeed share in the same chalice, but that it was not His to give a place at his right or left hand. He went on to explain that unlike earthly kingdoms, where leaders were the powerful who lorded it over all the rest, among his followers, the leaders were to be the servants, those who took care of those less able to help themselves. (Mt 20:20-28)
Big Jim learned that lesson well. Following the Resurrection, he enthusiastically spread the Good News of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. Some say he went as far as Spain, preaching the Good News, though we have no proof of that. We know that he he was one of the leaders of the community in Jerusalem and died there in 44 AD, the first of the Apostles to die as witnesses (martyrs) for the Good News.
And what of this kingdom where service to the least of the least is the hallmark of greatness? It grew and continues to grow. We look around us and see all of the pain and suffering of the poor. We get disheartened by the wars that rage and the senseless killings. But we also need to look at the good things that have developed. Think of doctors, hospitals and clinics that serve the poor as well as the rich. Think of schools for children of all social classes. Think of public funds that help provide food for mothers and children who otherwise might have none. These and many more good things have come about because followers of Jesus, sometimes one lonely person at a time, saw a need and set about to serve those who had nothing and no one who cared enough to help them. We still have a long ways to go, but the Kingdom of Jesus is growing, slowly though it may seem, and changes continue to come even in our days. The lesson Big Jim learned on that day so many years ago is one for us today. “Whoever wishes to be great among you shall be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave.” (Mt 20:26-27)Read More