St James, The Greater, Apostle
July 25th, 2020
So much tradition.
So much confusion.
So much – that at one time was conjecture.
You see it repeatedly.
You must be careful. You must be perceptive. But then, thankfully there is the Biblical record.
This JAMES is the brother of JOHN. Like the name Jesus, the name John was also a common enough name. The name James was not far behind. The name James means “he who supplants, replaces or undermines, or heel.” In Hebrew the name would be the name Jacob.
It does not help us at all that there are a couple of individuals named James in the Biblical record. And more than a couple named John.
There is James, the Greater.
And, James, the lesser.
And there is the author of the Epistle or letter of James.
It does or can – get confusing.
As a general rule of thumb: When two names are stated together, the first is usually the older…like, James and John the sons of Zebedee. James would be the older of the two siblings and therefore, his name appears first.
If someone is referred to as being the “Greater” it usually is for one of two reasons, either they were “older” OR they were the “the taller” of the two. It had absolutely nothing to do with “importance” or “wisdom” or “knowledge” …or “size or girth.” Nor did it have anything to do with the measure of their “holiness.” The “lesser” was then, always “the younger” or “the shorter in physical stature.”
This James is James the Greater. Perhaps the older and the taller of two men, both named James.
This James was the son of Zebedee and Salome, the family owned a fishing boat, had servants, and lived right around the Sea of Galilee. They were apparently a family of some means.
Speculation questions whether the family business also included the family of Peter and Andrew, as well. Perhaps it was an early form of a joint owned business.
We do know that James (and his brother) was one of “the favored three” or the “inner circle of Jesus” who had the privilege of witnessing “the cure of Peter’s Mother-in-law,” the “Transfiguration of Our Lord” the “Raising to life of the daughter of Jairus” and the “Agony in the Garden of Gethsemane.”
So, this guy got around and witnessed events that the “other disciples” only heard about! He was a witness to some of the most important moments in Jesus’ ministry. It was big stuff! It was cool to be an “eyewitness.”
This was the self-same-guy who (if you will remember) at one time wanted to call down “FIRE FROM HEAVEN” to “smoke” a Samaritan village because they refused to “receive Jesus,” because he was “on his way” to the Holy City of Jerusalem instead.
This is also the same guy who according to one Gospel account – came to Jesus seeking to sit at his “right hand” when he came into his kingdom. Which, as you might imagine, started all kinds of problems within “the other members” of the apostolic group.
And these are the brothers who started an argument with the other disciple’s, about which of them “WAS THE MOST IMPORTANT.” Or, was it, “Who was the most popular?” Or, “Who was “the most loved” by Jesus?” Or, the greatest? Whatever it was, it caused inner turmoil.
Again, an argument or fight ensued. Jesus himself had to go and break up the fuss…and put them all in their places…
Jesus referred to these two brothers as being the “Sons of Thunder” because apparently, they were a couple of real “hot-heads,” powerful, and “very vocal…” loud and vociferous.
So, these are the things that we know-FOR SURE…based on the Biblical witness.
That is, apart from the fact that James was the first apostle, the first disciple of Jesus to be killed or martyred for his faith.
He was killed by Herod. That much we know. Whether Herod did it himself or merely ordered the execution is up for grabs. Whether he was flayed alive or decapitated is also a point of contention. Because there are varying and different traditions.
We know that he died around the year 44 in the common era-just outside of the Holy City.
From there, speculation and tradition go wild.
Did he travel from the Holy Land all the way through Europe to Spain? Did he see a vision of Mary? Did he build the first church honoring the Virgin Mary? Did he stop and heal a man crippled with arthritis who begged James for a cure – while he was on his way to his own execution?
“Tradition and speculation” have a lot to add, as is the case – with most of the disciples.
Today, James, the Greater is being remembered. He was a man of faith, a faithful follower and a student of Jesus. He died for his beliefs. And he himself, was a witness to the gospel accounts. May his memory always be a blessing for the church. I pray it is so.