Our apostle for this week is St. James. No, not that one, the other one – St. James the Lesser. It’s not the greatest nickname, but it was used to distinguish him from the other St. James, the son of Zebedee, who we learned about a short time ago. St. James the Lesser was also called James the Just, a much better nickname I would say, and was the son of Alphaeus.
St. James is sometimes referred to as the “brother of the Lord.” This can sometimes be deceiving for us, because we often think of “brother” as a biological term. In ancient Jewish culture, however, this phrase could be interpreted a number of ways other than being an actual biological brother of Jesus. James’ mother, who was also named Mary (this is starting to get confusing, isn’t it), was either a sister or a close relative to the Blessed Mother, and so according to the custom of the time, James would be referred to as the “brother of Jesus.”
After the Resurrection, St. James was made the first bishop of Jerusalem, taking care of the infant Church in what seemed a pretty prestigious honor. Tradition holds that he was the author of the Letter of James in the New Testament. Now, this isn’t specifically stated in the letter, but evidence suggests that it was written some time after St. Paul’s writings, meaning that it was probably written around 59 AD. Well, the other St. James had been dead for 14 years by that point, so there you go! Also, many of the early Fathers of the Church support the claim.
The Letter of James was written against some of those who were preaching and teaching things about Jesus that weren’t true, and abusing some of the teachings that had gone before, especially from St. Paul. It is a very interesting and valuable letter. It much of the basis for our understanding of the relationship between faith and works, that “faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” (2:17) It also discusses the means to live a holy life, and makes specific reference to the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick: “Is anyone among you sick? He should summon the presbyters of the church, and they should pray over him and anoint [him] with oil in the name of the Lord.” (5:14)
St. James was martyred in Jerusalem – we know that much. But what is interesting is that one of the sources we have isn’t a religious source, but the famous secular historian Josephus, who himself was a Jew. Apparently, St. James was accused of violating the Jewish Law in Jerusalem. The Roman procurator at the time had just died, and the new one had not yet arrived in office, so the high priest took advantage of the confusion to condemn James to death by stoning. And so St. James shared the crown of martyrdom, just as so many other apostles had done before.
Really not as much is known about St. James the Just than other apostles, and there certainly aren’t as many fantastic legends. But what we do know is that James was one of the human men who became the foundation of the Church. This wasn’t an achievement of St. James by his own right, but as a gift from God, and he was able to share more deeply in Christ’s life through his own suffering. Let’s pray that we too can be instruments of grace for Christ to use and build up his Church!