Eighth Sunday after Trinity Matthew 20:20-28 Acts 11:27-12:2
James the Apostle
What defines a hero? Whenever we hear the word ‘hero’, our minds may go back to a particular person, who has shown the marks of heroism, whether they are known to us personally or a figure of history. Usually, with historic figures, the person we admire or have an affinity with, were brave in the face of trial, held their ground in front of enemies, and won victories, even if they died in the end. In their lives and battles, they were people of renown who inspired others. No wonder that fictional heroes are invented from time to time, all modelled on historic ones, even though their attributes can reach to ridiculous proportions, like Spider- or Superman. A more recent, historic hero would be Captain Sir Tom, the 100-year old man, who saw a crisis and decided to ‘do his bit’ last year. His humble steps, literally, inspired millions. But whether we take to historic figures who inspire us, or fictional characters, they can encourage us in the face of trials.
In Matthew’s gospel, we find James and John, two of Jesus’ disciples, who come to Jesus – with their mother – who asked a favour: would he please declare that her sons would sit on either side of him, in his kingdom. The other disciples were annoyed at their cheek: perhaps not so much because they had asked the question, but because they asked it first! They needn’t have been upset, as Jesus points out that it’s the Father who decides, not Jesus. Besides, the more pressing question for the disciples would be this: can they drink the cup that Jesus is about to drink? When they reply that they can, Jesus says they will indeed, but they probably didn’t really understand what it meant until much later. The cup that Jesus referred to was not the one of nobility and the like; rather, it was like the cup of wrath that’s mentioned in the Old Testament, like Isaiah 51 and Jeremiah 25. Those passages are speaking of God, grieving over the wickedness of the world and stepping in to punish the arrogant and the oppressors, forcing them to drink the sour wine of God’s holy anger. Drinking the cup that Jesus drank means confronting evil but that’s not always an easy ride! Rather, it often means being a servant, not a master. There will be a reward, but it doesn’t look like fame and riches in this world which don’t last anyway.
James and John both had their part to play in following Jesus. James was killed as a martyr, fairly early on in the life of the Church. But John, the youngest of the disciples, was given another task: that of being a witness to the Resurrection and writing an important part of the New Testament. Both were given a job to do, and maybe we can classify them as heroes of their day, holding on to the faith and passing on a deep insight into God’s love and his power to save. They didn’t fight their battles with a sword, but with the power of the Holy Spirit. Their deeds were as humble as the pen and paper that they’ve been recorded with, and yet, they speak of heroism. Service as greatness. Shame as godliness. Life through death. How would you define it? Who is your hero? Amen.