But it shall not be so among you: but whosoever will be great among you, let
him be your minister; and whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your
servant: even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister,
and to give his life a ransom for many.
(St. Matthew 20. 26,27)
Today we celebrate the Feast of St. James the Apostle. Tradition has it that St. James is the kinsmen or relative of our Lord Jesus Christ, often called St. James the Great or St. James the Just. St. James was the brother of St. John, a son of Zebedee, who was a fisherman and one of the first followers of Jesus. With his brother John, he was called a Son of thunder. He, his brother, and Peter were the only Apostles to be taken up Mount Tabor to witness the Transfiguration of Our Lord. He with them alone witnessed the Agony in the Garden of Gethsemane. The Acts of the Apostles tells us that Herod Agrippa, Vassal of Rome, ended his life by the sword –a curious method of execution since Jews or non-Romans were normally killed by crucifixion. Perhaps the explanation is that he was a Hellenized Jew, and thus as a citizen of the Roman Empire. We believe that his remains rest in the Church of Santiago de Compestella, in Galicia, Spain, where last year alone some 262, 460 pilgrims travelled to thank God for his life. Finally, what remains to us from his own experience is his Epistle, which we find towards the end of our New Testament, and scholars remind us that it is written in some of the most beautiful Greek ever penned.
From the Epistle of St. James we derive a singularly beautiful and simple exhortation to the Christian life. His Epistle is not long, is bereft of high theology, but provides, perhaps, one of the truest expressions of the truth that comprises the life of Jesus Christ. And when I say “truest expressions of the life of Jesus Christ”, I do not mean a historical and linear summary of the life we read of in the pages of the Gospels. What I mean by it is the ongoing life of Jesus Christ, ascended and seated at the right hand of the Father, but perpetually given to men as the life in which men are invited to participate. For St. James, the life of Jesus Christ is the Divinely given way and means to reconciliation with God who is the Father of all. For St. James Jesus Christ is the real presence of “God with us” which enables us to begin, and finally complete, our journey home to our destined end.
So we might say that St. James provides us with the way of life that alone can ensure our redemption and our salvation. You will remember that he says that every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning. (St. James 1.17) For St. James the way to God and the eternal possession of friendship with him is found in the gift of his presence. And the gift of his presence is found in the life of his Son. For of his own will begat he us with the Word of truth, that we should be a kind of first fruits of his creatures. As the eternally begotten Son of God was made flesh and died for us, so we should participate in his Resurrection and new life, and so begin to become the first fruits and new harvest of his spiritual creation. The same Word of God, begotten of the Father, should, in other words, be begotten or generated in us, that we too might be called the sons of God, the sons of thunder. For St. James new life means life in Jesus Chirst, and life in Jesus Christ can be ours only when we receive it as God’s gift, coming down from above, into our hearts and souls, as the very life that Christ is, and desires to become in you and in me.
No doubt it is difficult for us to encounter this truth that St. James posits as the only way and means to our salvation. We live in an age of compartmentalization. We work to make money and support families, and we rest to engage in the extensions of an all too comfortable existence. We go here and there. We wake and sleep, we work and play, we shop and garden, and so on. And none of these things is necessarily wrong. But St. James insists that all of this must be tempered and measured by the internal Gift and donation of God’s life, which God insists we are capable of receiving and indeed passing on. For what St. James offers to us in his Epistle is the opportunity to accept and receive God’s life, whose nature is nothing less than moral goodness. Moral goodness is the gift of God’s life to us. Moral goodness is not an ethical code of power points for self-betterment. Moral goodness is nothing less than the nature of God’s life extended to us, -ever active, ever moving towards us to be received, possessed, and so powerfully motivational, that it defines and determines the whole of our existence. Moral goodness is moral perfection, and Christ Jesus came to the earth to impart that reality to us.
Jesus Christ, whom St. James has received into the whole of his physical, emotional, affective and intellectual make-up, reveals to us that the moral perfection of God…belongs to our true lives. (Canon Stone) Christ Jesus is not only the eternally-begotten Word and Wisdom of God, but he is the perfect man. He is not only the best of all men, the greatest of human teachers, the consummate philosopher. For even great men fail, teachers can be wrong and philosophers can miss the truth so easily. Christ Jesus gives to us the true man, moved by what he receives as Gift from God, defined and determined by real presence of the Divine within, interiorly grasped and operative. Christ Jesus manifests and reveals, through his manhood, the Goodness of God, and as such, is nothing without it. And because Jesus shares in our humanity, joins his Godhead to our human nature, he brings to us the new possibility of our own unity with that same goodness, the chance to share in and partake of the Divine life with all the goodness that it expresses. He offers to us the life of God. He offers it to us in his life, and even in his death, when he cannot stop offering the Goodness and Love of God, though to his own hurt and ultimate demise. He offers the same goodness when he descends into the hells of our alienation from God, and cannot stop extending God’s goodness and love as the way and means out of all hells and into the true life of resurrection and rejourneying to the kingdom of heaven. Jesus Christ is the ever-active life of God, and that life is his goodness. He offers it to us that we may be transformed into his likeness, as progressively, through the process of our reception and acceptance of it, we begin and continue to dwell in Him and He in us.
St. James the Apostle stands at the beginning of a spiritual process and progress that offers the assurance that whenever men respond to the gift of God’s goodness, and become living members and partakers of the life that Christ Jesus is, they embrace the only way to true life that leads to perfection. The goodness that fills the hearts and souls of those who receive it, if it is known and experienced as nothing less than God’s will and way with and for men, cannot then help but emerge from the heart, leaping into the thought, words and deeds of men in converse with other men. That goodness then is known and experienced as the life of Jesus Christ. It is not a series of precepts and guidelines to earthly happiness and material prosperity. It is life- life received completely, and then given completely, as human beings become the servants and ministers of God’s mercy and goodness.
Moral goodness is the life of Jesus Christ. It shines out of him and leaps into the hearts of his friends and followers, like the blessed St. James, and finds no resting place there. Because it is true life, it emanates and flows into the deepest core of human existence, and there taking root grows up and flowers into the life of a disciple and friend of the Master. The true disciple, like St. James the Apostle, is one into whom Jesus Christ imparts his life. Jesus Christ offers to put into the disciple the disposition which he receives always as Gift from the Father of lights. Jesus knows that if we treat him as Teacher and imparter of Ethics, we shall come to despair. For truly then we cannot keep his commandments precisely because our natural man is fallen and incapable of living the good life. As long as we have the self-conceited, self-righteous notion that we can follow him and carry out his teaching, we forget what manner of man that we are…and are like the waves of the sea driven and tempest tossed by the effects of our own good works and efforts. But when we truly know and experience the truth of this reality, when we know that the good that we would do, we do not, and the evil that we would not do, we do, and do and do, we then become poor men and paupers, who know that every good gift and every gift cometh from above, from the Father of Lights. We then say, “I cannot do any good thing.” And Jesus says, “Blessed are you.” “Now you stand on the moral frontier that leads into the kingdom of God. Now you are ready to receive what the Father has give to me. Now I will fill you with the Goodness that he has given to me. Now you shall receive my Father’s goodness, and being moved and defined by it, express and manifest it in those thoughts, words and deeds that will call others, because you have been with me.” Our sanctification is our growth in the goodness of God. Our growth in the goodness of God the process whereby Christ imparts himself to us. He offers to us the same faith, holiness, patience, love, purity and godliness that he offered to St. James and his original friends. He offers to us the same life that having received who he is, imparts him to the world. Will we receive the total gift of his life? Will we dwell in Him, and He is us, so that we might reach the kingdom of true life? Will we, as servants and ministers, serve up the Gifts of his presence to all whom we encounter, counting it nothing less than blessing to give him to others? Amen.