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Who was James?

 

We worship at St. James Parish Church each week but the importance of the man for whom our building and parish are named can often be overlooked.

No one knows when he was born or what he looked like but from the Gospels we know of his passion for Jesus’ work, his close association with the Saviour and how he died.

His Background
James was the son of Zebedee and Salome (Matthew 27:56; Mark 15:40; 16:1). Zebedee was a fisherman on the Lake of Galilee. He probably lived in or near Bethsaida (John 1:44) or perhaps in Caparnaum. Since he could employ some boatmen or hired men regularly as his usual attendants (Mark 1:20), it is believed that his fishing business was quite successful. So he may have been a man of means. His family may have held some prominence in their society due to the fact that John “was known to the high priest” and was able to gain admittance for Peter to the high priest’s courtyard on the night of Jesus’ arrest (John 18:15-16). Another reason James’ family is believed to have been well off is that mother, Salome, was one of the pious women who followed Christ and "ministered unto him of their substance" (Matthew 27:55, sq.; Mark 15:40; 16:1; Luke 8:2 sq.; 23:55-24:1). Salome is also believed to have been the daughter of a priest.

His Early Life
James is referred to as "the Greater" to distinguish him from the Apostle James "the Less" (who was Jesus’ brother) and James the son of Alphaeus. Nothing is known of St. James' early life but he is commonly known as the elder brother of John, the beloved disciple and author of the fourth gospel of the New Testament. James’ name always occurs (except in Luke 8:51; 9:28; Acts 1:13 -- Greek Text) before his brother John’s which seems to imply that James was the elder of the two. Like the other apostles called to follow Jesus, James was a very ordinary man. A fisherman working alongside his brother for their father on Lake Galilee, Luke 5:10 states that Simon Peter and his brother Andrew also worked as fishermen in partnership with James’ family.

His Calling
St. James was called to the discipleship of the Messiah in parallel or identical narrations by Matthew 4:18-22; Mark 1:19 sq.; and Luke 5:1-11. Jesus called the two sons of Zebedee, as well as Simon (Peter) and his brother Andrew, while all were engaged in their ordinary occupation of fishing on the Sea of Galilee. In fact, James and John were mending nets. At the Saviour’s beckoning, they simply got up and left their father and his hired attendants, following Jesus for the rest of their lives. Interestingly, James is never mentioned in the Gospel of St. John. John’s humility extended to the members of his family.

The Apostle

  According to Matthew 4:22, the sons of Zebedee "forthwith left their nets and father, and followed him", becoming "fishers of men". James along with the other eleven men eventually became the Apostles of Jesus of Nazareth, documented in Matthew 10:1-4; Mark 3:13-19; Luke 6:12-16; and Acts 1:13. Furthermore, in all four gospels, James is listed along with Peter and John as making up a primary group within the Apostles which interacted closest with Jesus.
 
What was it that won James this place of honour? Perhaps his faith, his passion and
his outspoken straightforwardness. But first these qualities needed to be tempered
before he could proclaim the Gospel of peace.

Boanerges
Other than Simon Peter, James and John were the only apostles to receive a nickname from their teacher, Jesus. The passionate personalities of James and John earned them the nickname “Boanerges” or "sons of thunder" (Mark 3:17). The Lord gave them that name because while dedicated in their commitment, they were also impetuous and hot-tempered. When they came upon "a certain man casting out devils" in the name of the Christ, they forbade him to continue. John, answered Jesus’ questions about the incident, said: "We [James is probably meant] forbade him, because he followeth not with us" (Luke 9:49). When the Samaritans refused to receive Christ, James and John said: "Lord, wilt thou that we command fire to come down from heaven, and consume them?" (Luke 9:54; cf. 9:49). On the last journey to Jerusalem, their mother Salome came to the Lord and said to Him: "Say that these my two sons may sit, the one on thy right hand, and the other on thy left, in thy kingdom" (Matthew 20:21). The two brothers, still ignorant of the spiritual nature of the Messianic Kingdom, joined with their mother in this eager ambition (Mark 10:37). On their assertion that they are willing to drink the chalice that He drinks of, and to be baptized with the baptism of His sufferings, Jesus assured them that they will share His sufferings (Mark 5:38-39).

The Inner Group
Andrew was only present with the inner group of James, John and Peter at the healing of Peter's mother-inlaw (Mark 1:29) Only James along with his brother John and their friend Peter were present at important events in the ministry of Jesus These three Apostles alone were admitted to be present:
• at the raising of Jairus' daughter (Mark 5:37; Luke 8:51).
• they are described in private conversation with Jesus on the mount of Olives (Mark 13:3).
• at the Transfiguration, a key event in Jesus' life (Matthew 17:1-13; Mark 9:2-8; Luke 9:28-36)
• the same three disciples are called apart from the others in Gethsemane (Matthew 26:37; Mark 14:33).

His Ministry
While it is not stated in the Bible, tradition asserts that James the Greater preached the Gospel in Spain. However, St. Paul in his Epistle to the Romans (A.D. 58) expressed the intention to visit Spain (Romans 15:24) just after he had mentioned (15:20) that he did not "build upon another man's foundation." It is claimed that St. James the Greater, having preached Christianity in Spain, returned to Judea and was put to death by order of Herod.

His Martyrdom
James’ was the first of the Apostles to be martyred in A.D. 44 by Herod Agrippa I, son of Aristobulus and grandson of Herod the Great To please and gain favour with the Jews, Herod showed great regard for the Mosaic Law and Jewish customs. In pursuance of this policy, the newly founded Christian Church was victimized on the occasion of the Passover of A.D. 44. The Church’s rapid growth incensed the Jews and the zealous temper of James and his leading part in the Jewish Christian communities probably led Agrippa to choose him as the first victim. According to Acts 12:1-2, "He killed James, the brother of John, with the sword.“ His is the only one of the twelve apostles whose death is recorded in the New Testament.

Memorial
There are many legends surrounding his death and what happened to his body afterwards but due to his ministry in Spain, there is an impressive following there and an annual festival. He is also considered the patron saint of Spain. During the Middle Ages, the shrine at Santiago de Compostela which eventually became a church erected in James memory became one of the most famous places of pilgrimage in the world. It remains a popular pilgrimage site today.

Pilgrimage
There are symbols that represent most of the saints which pilgrams to their shrines traditionally wore. James is usually depicted wearing a hat with an upturned brim decorated with a scallop shell and crossed pilgrim staffs like those customarily worn by pilgrims to Santiago de Compostela. His feast day is July 25th every year.

Celebration
The festival in his honour in Compostela is a weeklong affair, celebrated with dramatic liturgy and with beautiful local costumes, Galician bagpipe music, dancing, and of course wonderful, special food. One of the traditional dishes is a scallop-filled empanada, or little pie. Nothing could be more appropriate, for the scallop shell has been, for hundreds of years, the symbol of Santiago as the emblem for all pilgrims to the shrine at Compostella. (In French, scallops are called "St. James cockles“ or “coquilles St. Jacques”.) Here in Barbados at St. James Parish Church, our celebrations are for a week as well but much more low keyed by comparison. We strive to infuse our observance of James’ memory with the passion of his character and the determination of his ministry of Jesus’ message to the world.

   
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