Feast Day of St. James the Great – 25th July

First Apostle to be Martyred

Jesus, fresh from His baptism and fired with His new calling, bursts into Galilee. Coming upon four fishermen working on the shore of the lake, He says to them, ‘Follow me’. Without further ado or even a second thought, they abandon what they’re doing (and in the case of two of them, James and John, leave their poor old father alone in the boat with the hired crew), and set off with Jesus, they know not where.  That is how Mark’s Gospel records the recruitment of four of the apostles of Jesus.  Talk about a sudden change of life!

All our understanding of human behaviour tells us that this is not how people normally respond to such a peremptory invitation: no questions, no explanation.  Take it or leave it. Just ‘Follow me’.

That however is on a superficial reading of the text.  In fact, because we have four Gospels rather than just three, we know from John that one pair of brothers, James and John, and the other two called on the same day, had been disciples of John the Baptist, who had pointed Jesus out to them as the ‘Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world’.

Subsequently two of them had sought Him out and spent some time with Him in the Jordan area. This was not quite the instant ‘conversion’ described by Matthew and Mark, though undoubtedly it evoked an instant response.

For many of us on the journey of faith the experience of James and John – and the other two, Peter and Andrew – mirrors our own experience.  Firstly, we know about Jesus, perhaps as children at Sunday school, or later as adults.  Then we begin to ask questions and look for answers.  Finally, there may come a time when we hear His voice, as it were, calling us to accompany Him on a life of love, service, and commitment.

For James (whose feast day falls this month) this moment was to turn his whole life upside down.  He became a leader of the church in Jerusalem after the resurrection and was the first apostle to be martyred, being put to the sword by Herod Agrippa in 44AD. His brother John, in contrast, lived on as a senior figure in the life of the emerging Church.  For all four who were called by the lake that day, nothing would ever be quite the same again.  But then all those who set out to follow Jesus, wherever He leads them, are usually in for a few surprises.


The feature image for this post is “Peter Paul Rubens – St James the Apostle – WGA20192”, Wikicommons (P.D.)

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