Wednesday, October 24, 2007

The Proper of Yesterday: St. James of Jerusalem

Yesterday in the West the church celebrated the Major Feast of St. James of Jerusalem. (I'm observing it today because I read my calendar incorrectly.....) There are at least three and possibly up to 8 persons named James in the New Testament, and we commemorate three of them: James son of Zebedee, who was in Jesus' "inner circle" along with Peter and John; James son of Alphaeus, one of the Twelve, often called (sadly for him) the Less; and James of Jerusalem, often called the Just.

James of Jerusalem is also called the Brother of Our Lord. He may well have been a blood relative of Jesus. He's considered to be the first bishop of Jerusalem, and therefore in a sense the first Christian bishop. He was the acknowledged leader of the Jerusalem congregation, and even the Pharisees admired him for his adherence to the Law and his good works. James was executed in 62 AD, and he may also be the author of the Epistle of James, but the book itself doesn't say.

I was struck at Morning Prayer by the line in the Song of Zechariah, "Through his holy prophets he promised of old * that he would save us from our enemies." The first lesson just before this was a lament from the prophet Jeremiah about the plot against his life, and then comes this line, and then the excerpt from Matthew about being a sheep among wolves, and that the one who perseveres to the end will be saved. James is a martyr, of course, and that word has the connotation of one who dies for the faith. But "martyr" really means simply"witness." In that sense, we are all martyrs when we witness to the faith. Each of us does that in different ways because we each have differing skills and abilities and talents. James did it unto death, and there are many in 2007 around the world who are also doing that. But I wonder what James has to say to us in the New York metro area in 2007? How am I being a witness to the Good News? How are each of us? To what degree, if any, are we giving anything up for the faith? It seems to me that to intentionally witness implies, to some degree, a choice not to do something else with one's time and energy and money at that moment. There is, I think, a positive commitment in witnessing. It means not merely doing good things, but doing good things for a reason, in response to the Good News, and that implies some sort of positive proclamation of one's motivation.

I'm mindful of Jesus's admonition in the Sermon on the Mount, of course: don't trumpet your good works on the street corner. But what I'm thinking about is how we deliberately mold our lives to specifically witness to Jesus, or just do it in a haphazard sort of way, or don't think about it at all. St. Francis is said to have said, "Preach the Gospel at all times - use words if necessary." That's good, but those who see one's Gospel-preaching actions, even without words, need to be able to receive the Good News in those actions and have the opportunity to react to it that way. I wonder how many of our actions, good intentioned as they are, are really effective witness?

Grant, O God, that, following the example of your servant James the Just, brother of our Lord, your Church may give itself continually to prayer and to the reconciliation of all who are at variance and enmity; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.


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