Readings for the feast day of St. James, October 23:
Psalm 112, 125
You know, it had to be tough being James, the brother of Jesus. Although miles of manuscript have been written debating just how James is the brother of Jesus, and where he’d go on the family pedigree chart have been written, that part doesn’t really matter. What matters is that it’s never easy to have well-known kin. Any of us who attended the same school as an over-achieving relative would get this. If it turns out we are not of the same caliber of the family over-achiever, there are always subtle ways other people slide equally tall expectations onto us, and for many of us, the self-expectations are even worse. More than one person in that situation has secretly simultaneously wished they could be like that person, and that the other person had never been born. There’s always tension, no matter how much we love “the golden child in the family.” That tension is often unwritten and only spoken in hushed tones. So we don’t really know how much that tension existed in James’ life, but I think any of us with a “golden relative,” or who ever worked in the family business, or helped carry a family legacy would say it is highly unlikely it never existed.
Scripture and history reveal to us that James was neither slacker nor coward in his own right. He was Bishop of Jerusalem and met his death by stoning–and even if he wasn’t perfect, he was virtuous enough to earn the moniker of James the Just, as used in the non-canonical Gospel of Thomas. Paul’s epistles point out James was one of the early apostles that was willing to minister to the Gentiles. All that we know of James… well… he did all right. He was brave in the face of his own death–a death that was really probably a political murder orchestrated by the high priest Ananus ben Ananus. One historical account states that the fatal blow in James’ own stoning was a blow delivered to his head with a staff while he knelt praying for those who stoned him. James, I suppose, could have instead carried along a life full of resentments, knowing he could never be as good as Jesus, and aged into that person we’ve all seen sitting on a barstool, crying “I never had a break,” into his beer and to anyone who’d listen. But he didn’t. He somehow figured out that God was calling James to be the best James he could be, and he lived a life answering that call.
For me, James is a reminder that every one of us has something in life has at least one circumstance that can be the source of much tension, and recognizing that who we are as God’s own, is enough. We don’t have to depend on the family name, or the name of the school printed on our diploma, the last name of our spouse’s family, or the company brand to have worth. We already have worth for who we are in the sight of God.
What is the tension in your own life circumstances that, at times, gets in the way of understanding who you are as God’s own? How are you called to minister to the person whose life circumstances has made them feel less beloved by God?
Maria Evans, a surgical pathologist from Kirksville, MO, writes about the obscurities of life, medicine, faith, and the Episcopal Church on her blog, Kirkepiscatoid