History records that ten of the Twelve Apostles died a martyr’s death. Many others followed. Only the death of St. James, whose feast we celebrate today, is recorded in the Scriptures. In chapter twelve of the Acts of the Apostles, St. Luke reports that Herod had St. James put to death by the sword just eleven years after Jesus died on the cross. So when Jesus asked both James and his brother John if they could drink the chalice that he was about to drink, the Gospel is making it very clear that the followers of Jesus would also be executed. Whether James knew this when he boldly proclaimed that he could drink of that chalice is a matter of conjecture. This Gospel story seems to indicate that they thought that following Jesus would lead to a position of honor.
In the first reading, using the inclusive “we,” St. Paul speaks of what he himself is currently experiencing as he writes to the Church of Corinth. “We” are afflicted, perplexed, persecuted, and struck down. However, he goes on to say that while death is at work in “us,” life is at work in you. Immediately, it becomes clear that Paul is speaking of himself when he says “we.” He realizes that his death will bring life to the community. Historians will write that the blood of the martyrs is what watered the seed of the faith giving birth to the Church.
Jesus affirms Paul’s statement by introducing the idea that true honor lies in service of others, not in positions of power. Just as Jesus came to serve, his followers are also called to lives of service. I can imagine that these words were echoing in the mind of James as he faced his own executioner.
We say that through baptism we share in Jesus’ ministry as priest, prophet and king. However, in Jesus’ life, ministry and death, his kingship is revealed through service to others. To be faithful to him, we must serve as he served, even if it means dying for him.
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator