Today is the feast of St. James the Elder, the apostle always listed second in the familiar “Peter, James, and John” trio that Jesus often took aside from the rest of the disciples. He is among the first of those Jesus called and, since James is usually listed before his brother John, the Church has long conjectured that he’s the elder of the two. He is also the first of the Twelve to die a martyr’s death, put to death by Herod at the beginning of Acts 12. However, while we do remember him (and all martyrs) for their faithfulness unto death, we also remember him for this:
And James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came up to him and said to him, ‘Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.’ And he said to them, ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ And they said to him, ‘Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.’ Jesus said to them, ‘You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?’ And they said to him, ‘We are able.’ And Jesus said to them, ‘The cup that I drink you will drink, and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized.’
A shameful, embarrassing moment in the life of St. James the Elder. So why do we point out this passage on feast day? From Dr. Pulse’s chapel sermon this morning:
James and John they have offended – irritated – the delicate sensitivities of the other apostles by coming to Jesus with a request. A stupid request at that… So Jesus asks: “Are you able to drink of the cup that I drink? Or be baptized into the baptism into which I am baptized?”
“We. Are. Able.”
Really? So bold. So confidant. So Sem 1-like. Are you able? Can you handle it? Can you do whatever is necessary? Can you?
No. But they will.
…The Sons of Thunder, if they had known what they were really asking for, if they could look and foresee days ahead, perhaps they would have taken their name and joined the pro wrestling circuit. Less pain. And perhaps even greater glory – at least in the eyes of this planet. But friends, the truth is seeking heavenly glory, even if it’s only to be manifested in the heavenly realms, is a foolish mission. The pursuit of glory and suffering is the lot. Only one can drink of that cup and be baptized in that baptism of suffering and death. Only one can face the slings and arrows of the evil one. Only one can take the sins of the whole world upon His shoulders and carry them to the tree. Only one can hang there and be the sacrifice, pay the price that is demanded with His holy, precious, innocent blood. Only one can hang there in agony and declare: “It is finished.”
… And only one descends into hell to declare that victory over sin and death and to bind that old evil foe. And then He rises. People, only one can drink of that cup. The rest of us fall to our knees in amazed thanksgiving and gasp out our halleluiahs.
Are you able? Can you handle it? Can you do whatever is necessary? Can you? No. But you will. James dies by the sword in the hand of Herod and the community rejoices. Can you drink of that cup? No. But you will. But not first and not alone. For first Jesus drinks and has drank that cup to its very grave. And as that cup of suffering is pressed against our lips, we see Jesus, for He is with us.
Can you? No. But you will. With the help of Him who already has.
As always, every feast day is truly about Jesus and His death and resurrection — His saving of foolish sinners. Thanks be to God.