25 July [St James, apostle]
Mt 20:20-28

The mother of the sons of Zebedee came to him with her sons, and kneeling before him, she asked a favour of him. And he said to her, ‘What do you want?’ She said to him, ‘Declare that these two sons of mine will sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom.’ But Jesus answered, ‘You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink?’ They said to him, ‘We are able.’ He said to them, ‘You will indeed drink my cup, but to sit at my right hand and at my left, this is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father.’
         When the ten heard it, they were angry with the two brothers. But Jesus called them to him and said, ‘You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. It will not be so among you; but whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be your slave; just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.’

James, the brother of John, is an apostle we know very little about.  It is clear that he had a leading position among the Twelve.  In every list of the apostles he is in the first three; and he was the first apostle to be martyred.  Yet, with one exception, he is never mentioned apart from his brother John.  The one exception is when his martyrdom is recounted in Acts 12:2.

James and John were fishermen, sons of Zebedee.  They seem to have been typical impulsive and quick-tempered Galileans, for they were nicknamed ‘Boanerges’, “sons of thunder” (Mk 3:17).  They were ambitious men who wanted an assurance that they would have big jobs in the Kingdom (Mk 10:35-45).

That is all that is known of James the Apostle.  He was not the author of the Letter of James.  There is a legend that he went to Spain and preached the Gospel there; he is the patron saint of that country.  There is a popular pilgrimage to his tomb in the city of Santiago de Compostela.  It was named Europe’s Premier Cultural Itinerary by the Council of Europe in 1987 and is also listed on the Unesco World Heritage register. The Camino begins in Roncesvalles, on the French border, and covers 783 km to the Atlantic coast. Many pilgrims walk part of it, but sturdy ones walk the whole way, which takes about a month.

It was suggested that the name of the shrine of Compostela may be a corruption of Giacomo Postolo (James the Apostle).  To this day there is an image of the Virgin Mary in Saragossa, before which a hundred lamps are kept forever burning, for the legend is that Mary appeared to James there to strengthen him and encourage him in his work. 


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This page gives a very brief commentary by Donagh O’Shea on the gospel reading for each day of the month. 


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