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Saint James of Jerusalem, brother of our Lord

Tomorrow (October 23) is the feast of Saint James of Jerusalem, brother of our Lord. A collect for this feast is:

Grant, O God,
that, following the example of your servant James the Just,
brother of our Lord,
your Church may give itself continually
to prayer and to the reconciliation of all who are at variance and enmity;
through Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever. Amen.

There is considerable confusion about the different people called “James” in the New Testament, as well as the relationship of this James and Jesus. He is called the “brother of the Lord”, James the Just (out of respect for his piety and strict observance of the Law) or James Protepiscopus (First Bishop of Jerusalem). The Epistle of James and the Liturgy of St. James are attributed to him.

According to Josephus “the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James” met his death after the death of the procurator Porcius Festus, yet before Lucceius Albinus took office (Jewish Antiquities 20,9)

The gospel reading appointed for today Matthew 13:53-58 is:

53 When Jesus had finished these parables, he left that place.
54 He came to his hometown and began to teach the people in their synagogue, so that they were astounded and said, “Where did this man get this wisdom and these deeds of power?
55 Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not his mother called Mary? And are not his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas?
56 And are not all his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all this?”
57 And they took offense at him. But Jesus said to them, “Prophets are not without honor except in their own country and in their own house.”
58 And he did not do many deeds of power there, because of their unbelief.

saint_james_the_justMary (“Miriam”), Jesus’ mother, bears the same name as Moses’ sister, a strong woman. She is married to Joseph – another name from the early period in Genesis. The names of the rest of the family are also names reminiscent of the early history of liberation. Jesus (Joshua = “God saves/liberates/sets free”), James (Jacob), Joseph, Simon (Simeon), Judas (Judah). Jesus had at least two sisters. It is also significant that we don’t know their names!

Does your family go in for royal names (George, James, Henry, William, Elizabeth, Anne)? Famous sportspeople? Jesus’ family seemed to choose early liberation names. Jesus’ family chose names from the foundational deliverance stories of their nation. You can imagine what the Roman oppressors thought of people with names like this.

When the new Joshua (Jesus) crosses the Jordan (baptism) from the far side (Jn 1:28), re-entering the Promised Land, one can imagine the emails that hit Pontius Pilate’s PC from the equivalent of MI5 or the SIS. This is someone to keep an eye on!

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