The Cross before the Crown – Feast of St James the Apostle (James the Greater) – Matthew 20:20-28

The text of today has Jesus on the cusp of his ministry and his impending suffering, death and resurrection. A few verses into this Gospel and we will step into Holy Week with Jesus’ ‘triumphant entry’ into Jerusalem. Just a verse before the text of today, Jesus foretells for the third time, his death and resurrection.

In all of this, Salome, the mother of James and John steps in with a ‘favour.’ This was clearly no ordinary request for we know that she kneels before Our Lord. I may be imputing my thoughts to the mind of Christ but look at our Lord’s response. Here he says to her, “What do you want?” Compare this question to the two blind men in this very chapter, verses 31. They too want a favour but unlike Salome, they are compelled to shout out, “Son of David, have mercy on us.” (Verse 30). This time around, the Lord asks, “What do you want ME TO DO FOR YOU?”

Both, Salome and the blind men are asking for something. She for her sons the blind men for themselves. Both of them use a different style of approach; one kneels and the other shouts out. Both get the Lord’s attention yet Salome’s wish is not granted but the blind men’s wish is. Jesus almost seems peeved with Salome and he sounds curt in his response, yet the blind men get a pointed question from the Lord, as if to suggest that Jesus would do for them what they asked no matter what.

Interestingly, when Salome asks the Lord a question, he does not answer her but turns to ‘her boys’ who seem to have accompanied her or were just hanging around. Relying on the trends our human nature sets, I think it is the former, not the latter. “Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink?” asks Jesus. Our Lord knew that a couple of verses later he would enter Jerusalem and that would be his darkest hour of suffering.

St James (the saint of today) and his brother John seem to want some share in the glory. They want the crown but have not understood that the cross must come first. They speak out of zeal not out of knowledge when they say, “We are able.” Discernment is so essential to the Christian life. While I am enthusiastic to live for the Lord, he may want me to die for him. Remember he said, “Whoever loves his life will lose it.”

Our Lord’s response to James and John will forever be for each of us a point of constant reflection. How often have we asked the Lord for something that we think we deserve or that we want and his response is the same that he gave to James and John; “You do not know what you are asking.”

St James did get his cup of suffering. He was the first of the Apostles who suffered martyrdom. Herod Agrippa, the grandson of Herod the Great who had massacred the Holy Innocents, was trying to please the Jews in every possible way. In the year 43, St James became the scapegoat to be used by Herod Agrippa. At this point in time, St James was the authoritative figure in Jerusalem. The church had grown substantially and the beheading of St James, it seems, was the object of appeasement for the Jews.

The Spanish though will vehemently claim that St James preached to them and that his body now rests in Compostela. This place was and still continues to draw thousands of pilgrims from all over the world.

If you are a druggist, potter or pilgrim, then St James is your patron. He is also invoked in times of war and for patients with rheumatism.

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