This James is the brother of John the Evangelist. The two were called by
Jesus as they worked with their father in a fishing boat on the Sea of Galilee. Jesus had already
called another pair of brothers from a similar occupation: Peter and Andrew. “He walked along a
little farther and saw James, the son of Zebedee, and his brother John. They too were in a boat
mending their nets. Then he called them. So they left their father Zebedee in the boat along with
the hired men and followed him” (Mark 1:19-20).
James was one of the favored three who had
the privilege of witnessing the Transfiguration, the raising to life of the daughter of Jairus and
the agony in Gethsemani.
Two incidents in the Gospels describe the temperament of this man
and his brother. St. Matthew tells that their mother came (Mark says it was the brothers themselves)
to ask that they have the seats of honor (one on the right, one on the left of Jesus) in the
“Jesus said in reply, ´You do not know what you are asking. Can you drink the cup
that I am going to drink?´ They said to him, ´We can´” (Matthew 20:22). Jesus then told them they
would indeed drink the cup and share his baptism of pain and death, but that sitting at his right
hand or left was not his to give—it “is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father”
(Matthew 20:23b). It remained to be seen how long it would take to realize the implications of their
confident “We can!”
The other disciples became indignant at the ambition of James and John.
Then Jesus taught them all the lesson of humble service: The purpose of authority is to serve. They
are not to impose their will on others, or lord it over them. This is the position of Jesus himself.
He was the servant of all; the service imposed on him was the supreme sacrifice of his own
On another occasion, James and John gave evidence that the nickname Jesus gave
them—“sons of thunder”—was an apt one. The Samaritans would not welcome Jesus because he was on his
way to hated Jerusalem. “When the disciples James and John saw this they asked, ´Lord, do you want
us to call down fire from heaven to consume them´ Jesus turned and rebuked them...” (Luke
James was apparently the first of the apostles to be martyred. “About that time
King Herod laid hands upon some members of the church to harm them. He had James, the brother of
John, killed by the sword, and when he saw that this was pleasing to the Jews he proceeded to arrest
Peter also” (Acts 12:1-3a).
This James, sometimes called James the Greater, is not to be
confused with James the Lesser (May 3) or with the author of the Letter of James and the leader of
the Jerusalem community.
To read more about this Saint go to: