St. James: Earthen Vessel

7.25.18 Wed. wk. 16  Ordinary Time.  (II)
2nd Letter – Corinthians 4: 7 – 15
Gospel  of  Matthew  20: 20 – 28

The mother of the sons of Zebedee approached Jesus with her sons and did him homage, wishing to ask him for something.  He said to her, “What do you wish?” She answered him: “Command that these two sons of mine sit, one at your right and the other at your left, in your kingdom.”  Jesus said in reply, “You do not know what you are asking.  Can you drink the cup that I am going to drink?” They said to him, “We can.”  He replied, “My cup you will indeed drink, but to sit at my right and at my left, this is not mine to give but is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father.”  When the ten heard this, they became indignant at the two brothers.  But Jesus summoned them and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and the great ones make their authority over them felt.  But it shall not be so among you. Rather, whoever wishes to be great among you shall be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave.  Just so, the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.”          The Gospel of the Lord.

Homily:  Fr. Mike Murphy                       St. James: Earthen Vessel

This year the feast of St. James carries a deeper significance for me.  Two weeks ago today – I completed my ‘Camino de Santiago de Compostela’.  I entered St. James Basilica in Santiago, Spain – after walking the ancient pilgrimage to this Church, in honor of this great apostle, St. James.  There were people from all over the world on the Camino, all walking the Camino for various reasons, but all ending up at this church to venerate the relics of this Saint, this martyr, this apostle.

Tradition tells us that after Pentecost, James traveled to Galicia, Spain, to proclaim the Gospel of †Jesus Christ.  He preached to the pagan population which was made up mostly of people who followed the Druids and their rituals.  He had very limited success in Spain and so James returned to Jerusalem.  That was where he was beheaded by King Herod Agrippa, in 42 A. D.  He was the first of the twelve apostles to be martyred and James died the heroic death of a martyr.

But saints and martyrs are not born that way; they are not born as heroes.  As St. Paul wrote in his Letter to the Corinthians: “We hold this treasure in earthen vessels, that the surpassing power may be of God, and not of us”. (2 Cor.4:7)

The journey to sanctity began for James in a true “earthen vessel”.  He was not a perfect man, as none of the apostles were.  As we read in the Gospel, he and his brother, John, were looking for fame and position.  They got mom involved in it – to ask †Jesus for a favor.  Now, perhaps, James felt he deserved this, possibly he felt entitled to sit next to †Jesus in the Kingdom.  Just the fact – that -he was – who he was – was enough.  He came from a very prosperous fishing family.  We know that because in the Gospels we read – that his father could afford to hire workers in their fishing business.  So, maybe he felt a bit entitled – you know – ‘I’m better than those people’; I came from a nice wealthy family – so maybe my brother and I should sit on the right and left of †Jesus.  Possibly, he also felt entitled, because he had been chosen by †Jesus as part of His inner circle, of +Jesus.  Peter, James and John were with †Jesus at significant events.   †Jesus took the three of them with Him into the Garden of Gethsemane to pray closer to Him, while the others stayed off in the distance.

All of us are called to be saints and are called to strive for holiness – but it will involve battling with our selfish tendencies – this “earthen vessel”; all of us are in the same boat.  The spiritual warfare in our life is fought overcoming selfishness and striving for the virtuous life.  As †Jesus explains to James and John – it will require us to “drink” of the same “chalice” that †Jesus drank from – the chalice of suffering – the chalice of self-gift and surrender to God’s Will and not our will.  Daily – we are to “walk the walk – in the imitation of Christ”.   That’s what it means to drink from the chalice.  If we wish to serve – we must be prepared to sacrifice.  If we wish to sit on the right and left of †Jesus in His Kingdom – we must be prepared to die to self.

So, the question is: ‘What kind of chalice does the Lord have in mind for you?  What is going to be your chalice?  It might be the cup of physical suffering or even the possibility of physical martyrdom.  It might be the long arduous routine of faithfully living the Christian life – day after day, month after month – year after year!  That’s a slow martyrdom, sometimes.  It might be struggling through family life or a difficult marriage; losing a loved one; seeing one’s hopes and dreams dissolve due to unexpected circumstances completely out of your control.  In all these ways we drink of the “chalice” – if we remain faithful to our call to holiness and our call to the Christian life.

What makes sacrifice a joy rather than a burden?  It is love!   All of you who have had children know that.  Sometimes it can be a pain in the neck to have kids, but, because you love them – that’s where the joy comes from.  Loving God with all that we are – in both our successes and in our failures.  It is loving one another in a sacrificial way; not feeling we deserve better, but humbly serving other people – choosing to be the last rather than the first.

St. John Chrysostom wrote this in the 4th century:  “So fear not…be ready to abase yourself for in this way your glory is exalted even more and 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 our self; 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 the apostles by turning things up-side-down.” (excerpt from “The Gospel of Matthew, Homily 65.4.25). The last shall be first and the first shall be last.  †Jesus turned everything up-side-down.

If we wish to follow in the footsteps of St. James, and other heroic martyrs and saints, let our personal “Camino” be marked by love and self-gift.  Then, when we arrive at last to the Kingdom – †Jesus will motion to us and say to us: “Come, sit at my right, my good and faithful friend”.

     In the Name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.