Readings for the feast of Saint James of Jerusalem, brother of our lord Jesus Christ, Friday, October 23, 2020:
Keeping track of all the guys named James in the early history of the church could be a full time job! We know that there are at least eight seemingly different fellows named James mentioned in the New Testament, which could represent as few as five and as many as eight different people. The most important result from my tangled research into ancient pedigrees is that James of Jerusalem was NOT James, son of Zebedee. That James became the patron saint of Spain and is associated with the Camino de Santiago.
The preponderance of early writings say James of Jerusalem was a half-brother to Jesus; yet at the same time, a minority opinion is that he was a cousin of Jesus. Our feast calendar sides with the half-brother camp. Even the accounts of his death lack a consensus–James either died in the year 62 C.E., or 69 C.E., and, depending on who you read, he was either stoned in Jerusalem, crucified in Egypt, or pushed off a tower by the Pharisees (his head bashed with the same club a person would use to beat laundry). It is confusing! Even writing today’s column, I’m doing my darndest not to get him mixed up with some other James, and I still may well falter.
What we can be certain of, is that this James was the first bishop of Jerusalem, and he was also called James the Just, which speaks volumes about his high character. His major decision as Bishop of Jerusalem was to not require circumcision of Gentile converts— hugely generous given that he also viewed himself as a devout Jew, despite his conversion to following Jesus.
What I’d like to consider today, though, when looking at the life of one at this earliest of saints, is the high possibility that James was one of Jesus’ brothers mentioned in John 7:5, “For not even his brothers believed in him.”
That’s right. This early saint, beloved Bishop, and martyr of the church…when Jesus was out there doing his ministry, this same James was scoffing about the claims of his half-brother. After all, James wasn’t a believer until after Jesus the resurrection and appearance to James and Jesus’ disciples. (Admittedly, I can appreciate how hard it might be to believe your sibling is the Messiah.)
This, I believe–the fact that somewhere down the line James changed his mind–is today’s Good News. Changing one’s mind in 2020 runs the risk of being considered a flip-flopper. (Just ask Dr. Fauci about the grief he got when the CDC changed its position on mask wearing.) Yet at the same time, changing one’s mind and being resolute, yet introspective of our change, is an important part of growing one’s internal faith. If all of us never changed a thing about how we looked at the world, or looked at our faith, how could we ever learn the ways faith changes us through difficult times or in times of loss or controversy? I’m sure each of us can tell a story of a position we held on a social hot-button topic, whether that topic is about race or orientation, or the death penalty, or any of the many topics that divide us, that, as we grew deeper in understanding God’s love for us, and what following Christ means for us, we changed our minds. Thanks be to God we are free to change our minds! James of Jerusalem serves as a reminder to us that changing one’s mind is not something to be ashamed of, but can be life-giving. In his case, it gave him new life as an early public follower of Jesus and the respect of those who followed him as their bishop.
When is a time in your life you changed your mind, and it turned out to be a life-giving or life-saving move for you?
Maria Evans splits her week between being a pathologist and laboratory director in Kirksville, MO, and gratefully serving in the Episcopal Diocese of Missouri , as the Interim Pastor at Christ Episcopal Church, Rolla, MO.