The Readings for the Feast of St James the Apostle
(17th Monday, Tempus per Annum, C2)
“Whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave.”Matthew 20:27
THE OFFICE OF READINGS for today’s feast has a wonderful passage from St John Chrysostom, commenting on today’s Gospel. Jesus is asked to let James and John sit on his right hand and left. Jesus says, “Can you drink the same chalice as me?” The two brothers say they can. And Jesus replies, “You will do so! But…” I’ve heard a lot of preachers take that as a “gotcha” moment. “Yes, ok, fine, you can drink this chalice but I can’t let you sit there.” Chrysostom says, instead, that Jesus “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.'” Jesus is recognizing – even honoring – their zeal and the fullness of their faith as it was at this moment. He is telling them it will grow so much that they will die for him.
Then he corrects their wrong assumptions: for this means they will become slaves in their kingship, just as he, too, has become a slave in his Godhead.
Christ came to serve, not to be served. He calls the Apostles to this service. So, some part of the Apostolic office is, exactly service: to the poor, to the weak, the ill, and the lost. To express this in other words, some part of the Apostle’s ministry is to those who need the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. One might say the entire mission of the Apostles is exactly the Works of Mercy.
Through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the Church has spread the Apostolic Office through the entire body of Christ. When Paul enumerates the charisms given to the Church he says that they are all given for the whole Church: “For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ.” The entire Church together does this work and each office or charism is part of that work, intended for the whole. “Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ.” (Ephesians 4:12-13) So, all of the ministries are for all of the Church.
When the Church is gathered at the Altar, especially in the presence of the Bishop, we experience the entire body of Christ in Symbol: the people and their Bishop, the presbyters and the deacons, together with the unseen Choirs of Saints also gathered, are configured fully to be Christ present and active in the world, worshipping the Father in the unity of the Holy Spirit.
Each member of the Body of Christ performs their ministry, their work in the world, only in this context.
Christ says to James and John that they will drink his chalice. But, see: you don’t quite understand yet what this means. Chill out, Thunder Bros. To drink of the Son’s Chalice is to become part of this glorious “fullness of Christ” in the world: we have work to do and we are sent to do it. But it is not our work we do. We don’t “have jobs” as such, only the work of Jesus continues.
And he came to serve, not to be served and to give his life.