25 July: St. James the Greater and St. John Chrysostom on the Gospel reading

Today is the feast of St. James the Apostle.  This is James, the son of Zebedee and brother of John.  He and John were nicknamed “Boanerges“, “Sons of Thunder”.  James is the only Apostle whose martyrdom is recorded in Scripture, as he was put to the sword at the order of Herod Agrippa.  He is venerated at Santiago di Compostela in Spain.

I am sure other blogs will tell you more about the greater James.  I will instead put on my patristiblogger cap.

The Gospel for today’s feast, in both the Ordinary and Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite, is from Matthew 20:20-28 (EF has vv. 20-23), when Salome, the mother of James and John, ask Jesus for an honor for her sons. This creates a division among the Apostles and Jesus predicts suffering and then teaches them in a new way.

St. John Chrysostom (+407) explains the situation a sermon on this part of Matthew.

He says, “The Son of man came not to be served but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many.” It is as if here were saying, “I willed not even to stop at death but even in death gave my life as a ransom. For whom? For enemies. For you. If you are abused, my life is given for you. It is for you. Me for you.”  [Do I hear an “Amen!”, bruthes’n’sistuhs?]

So you need not be too picky if you suffer the loss of your honor. No matter how much it is lowered, you will not be descending as far as your Lord descended.  And yet the deep descent of one has become the ascent of all. His glory shines forth from these very depths. For before he was made man, he was know among the angels only. But after he was made man and was crucified, so far from lessening that glory, he acquired further glory besides, even that from His personal knowledge of the world.

So fear not, then, as though your honor were put down. Rather, be ready to abase yourself. For in this way it becomes greater. This is the door of the kingdom. Let us not then go the opposite way. Let us not war against ourselves. For if we desire to appear great, we shall not be great but even the most dishonored of all.

Do you see how everywhere Jesus encourages them by turning things upside down? He gives them what they desire but in ways they did not expect. In the preceding passages we have shown this in many instances. He acted this way in the cases of the covetous and of the proud. So you can see why he asks whether we are giving our alms to be seen by others. To enjoy glory? Do not do this for glory, and you will enjoy it more. Why do you lay up treasures? To be rich? Try laying up no treasure, and then you will be rich. And in this case, why do you set your heart on sitting in the first place? That you may have the honor before others? Try choosing the last place; work in the kingdom. If it is your will to become great, then do not seek greatness and you will become great.

(s. 65.4 on the Gospel of Matthew – in PG 58:622-23; NPNF 1 10:401-2)

No matter how low we are reduced, either because of our own mistakes or the dealings of others, even by bad luck, nothing compares to how far the Eternal Son sank down when He took up our human and then suffered and died on the Cross.

When we have been slighted or attacked, this thought can be a remedy for ill will we – in our weakness – might harbor towards those who have done us wrong.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. James says:

    Thank you for this. It’s a timely and helpful meditation on my patron’s feast day.

  2. Joe in Canada says:

    I too thank you. I used the passage from the Breviary in my homily at Mass this morning, which is just before what you give us. Your passage is very helpful.

  3. Joe in Canada says:

    I too thank you. I used the passage from the Breviary, which is just before what you give us, in my homily at Mass this morning.

    Then the other ten became angry at the two brothers. See how imperfect they all are: the two who tried to get ahead of the other ten; and the ten who were jealous of the two! But show them to me at a later date in their lives, and you will see that all these feelings and impulses have disappeared.

    We included a petition for mothers of novices. Your passage is very helpful.

  4. I just learned from a friend that T.E. Lawrence named his famous Brough Superior “Boanerges”.

  5. Mark of the Vine says:

    When will the patristiblogger be up?

  6. ByzCath08 says:

    St. John Chrysostom is the best.

  7. Dr. Eric says:

    “Sons of Thunder” would be a great name for a heavy metal band- perhaps a Christian Metal Band. ;-)

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