John and James, The Sons of Zebedee
St. John Chrysostom
Early Church Father and Doctor of the Church
This excerpt from a homily on the gospel of Matthew by Saint John Chrysostom (Hom 65, 2-4: PG 58, 619-622) discusses SaintsJames and John, the Sons of Zebedee, and their mother's famous request that her sons sit at Jesus' right and left when he comes into his kingdom. It is used in the Roman Office of Readings for the Feast of St. James, Apostle, on July 25. St. James was born at Bethsaida and was martyred by Herod around the year 42. He is especially honored at Compostella, Spain, where a special church is dedicated in his name ("Santiago").
The sons of Zebedee press Christ: Promise that one may sit at your right side and the other at your left. What does he do? He wants to show them that it is not a spiritual gift for which they are asking, and that if they knew what their request involved, they would never dare make it. So he says: You do not know what you are asking, that is, what a great and splendid thing it is and how much beyond the reach even of the heavenly powers. Then he continues: Can you drink the cup which I must drink and be baptised with the baptism which I must undergo? He is saying: “You talk of sharing honours and rewards with me, but I must talk of struggle and toil. Now is not the time for rewards or the time for my glory to be revealed. Earthly life is the time for bloodshed, war and danger”.
Consider how by his manner of questioning he exhorts and draws them. He does not say: “Can you face being slaughtered? Can you shed your blood?” How does he put his question? Can you drink the cup? Then he makes it attractive by adding: which I must drink, so that the prospect of sharing it with him may make them more eager. He also calls his suffering a baptism, to show that it will effect a great cleansing of the entire world. The disciples answer him: We can! Fervour makes them answer promptly, though they really do not know what they are saying but still think they will receive what they ask for.
How does Christ reply? You will indeed drink my cup and be baptized with my baptism. He is really prophesying a great blessing for them, since he is telling them: “You will be found worthy of martyrdom; you will suffer what I suffer and end your life with a violent death, thus sharing all with me. But seats at my right and left are not mine to give; they belong to those for whom the Father has prepared them.” Thus, after lifting their minds to higher goals and preparing them to meet and overcome all that will make them desolate, he sets them straight on their request.
Then the other ten became angry at the two brothers. See how imperfect they all are: the two who tried to get ahead of the other ten, and the ten who were jealous of the two! But, as I said before, show them to me at a later date in their lives, and you will see that all these impulses and feelings have disappeared. Read how John, the very man who here asks for the first place, will always yield to Peter when it comes to preaching and performing miracles in the Acts of the Apostles. James, for his part, was not to live very much longer; for from the beginning he was inspired by great fervour and, setting aside all purely human goals, rose to such splendid heights that he straightway suffered martyrdom.
For more Catholic resources to feed your faith, visit the Crossroads Initiative Homepage.
To sign up for our free weekly e-mail with Dr. D'Ambrosio's commentary on the Sunday readings, liturgical feasts, updates on where Dr. D will be speaking, a chance to WIN a FREE CD and MORE, CLICK HERE!
A Biblical Walk Through the Mass Starter Pack
A Biblical Walk Through the Mass is a five-part study that provides a unique tour of the timeless Liturgy. Based on the revised translation of the Mass which goes into effect Advent, 2011, it explores the biblical roots of the words and gestures we experience in Mass and explains their profound significance.
Great Adventure Bible Time Line Catholic Bible Study - 2.0 on DVD (Free Workbook!)
Newly Updated, The Bible Timeline provides a clear understanding of the underlying Scriptural narrative, which is essential to all Bible reading and study. The 24-part Bible Timeline Bible Study dives deep into the Biblical story. A combination of individual reading and study, group discussion, and lecture commentary guides participants as they read through the 14 narrative books of The Bible Timeline and discover the meaning of each in light of the whole. V 2.0
Epic: A Journey Through Church History, 20-Part Study (10 DVDs)
Journey through the history of Catholicism! This exciting 20-part (20 hour) DVD series takes you through the major people, places and events that make up the history of the Catholic Church. You will see the glory of the Church founded by Christ and understand where you fit into this Epic story.