Creighton University's Online Ministries
July 25th, 2011
Tom Bannantine, S.J.
School of Nursing
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St. James is one of the apostles about whom we know very little. And since we know so little about him, I find it difficult to distinguish him from the other apostle called James. We do know that this James was the son of Zebedee and the brother of John the evangelist. James and John were favored by Jesus to be present at some of the most memorable events of his public life here on earth. They were present at the Transfiguration and at the agony in the garden. St. Luke in the Acts tells us that James died when he was beheaded at Jerusalem by order of King Herod Agrippa. He was the first of the apostles to die.
In today's gospel reading we have the only certain appearance of the mother of James and John. Interestingly enough, St. Matthew does not even tell us her name. (Some say that she is the Salome mentioned in St. Mark's gospel.) Even in this one brief appearance this nameless woman has always caught my attention when I read this gospel passage. I think there is something very human and very attractive about her. Jesus makes it clear that her request is an improper one, and that he cannot consider granting it. And yet I say to myself "what mother does not want the best for her sons?"
This mother may make a very bold request, but she makes it in a most proper manner. She does not make the request behind the backs of her sons, but rather in their presence and presumably with their consent. Before making her request she does homage to Jesus, showing that she respects him as a great teacher and a good leader for her sons. She has the deference to wait until Jesus asks what her wish is before stating it. Then she simply departs the scene and the gospel story. This one brief scene is all that we know of her. The remaining dialogue in this scene is between Jesus and the brothers. Of their mother we hear no more. Although her life continues she vanishes from the gospel story as quickly and completely as she came into it. Her brief appearance in the life of Jesus is similar to that of a number of others. People such as Simon of Cyrene, Veronica, Zaccheus, and the Samaritan woman at the well. We are left with a charming picture of a woman whose name we do not know and who only wanted what was best for her two sons.
There has been much speculation about the mother of James and John. One tradition says that she was the sister of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Even if that were not true, it is very possible that she was privileged to know and spend time with Mary when John took her into his home. I like to think that this mother lived to see her son James enter into the heavenly kingdom. I am sure that it was a great joy for her even if James did not have a place at the right hand of Jesus.
to the writer of this reflection.
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