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James the Greater

James the Greater was a Galilean, son of Zebedee and Salome and brother of John (with whom he was called Sons of Thunder"). He was indeed James the Great, high-minded and ambitious, even haughty at times, a man of stature and influence, an active apostle. He lived in the same town of Bethsaida and he practiced his trade as a fisherman near the Sea of Galilee. James brother also heard the apostolic calling. He was John the Evangelist, whose symbol is an eagle, whose wings one day were to carry him to greater heights than James would reach. James was to stand below in the shadows, just as Andrew did. James had much in common with Andrew, his neighbor and forerunner in the college of apostles. Yet the two differed considerably in their characters and manners. James was also a fisherman on the Sea of Galilee, and had worked on the water with Andrew and Simon Peter for many years. The Gospels indicate that the two fishermen's families even shared the same boats and fishing equipment, and managed their affairs together.

Almost a year passed before the Lord returned to call James to follow Him forever. Like the rays of a red sun coming up from the edge of the sea, the light of the Messiah had already shone upon Simon and Andrew. It now struck James. In all four scriptural lists of the apostles they are placed among the first group, the first four. St. Mark places James in the second place, immediately after Peter. Throughout the Gospels James is portrayed as a prominent and distinguished apostle.

Time passed, and nothing happened. James had done nothing conspicuous or outstanding in the ranks of the apostles. Then Christ was crucified, and all was over. Before the risen Savior's manifestation in Galilee, this apostle had returned to his fishing. There on the sea everything seems to be as it had been before the Messiah came. Yet something was missing. The Resurrection gave Jesus back to His apostles, but only for awhile. After the Ascension, the fearful little group had retreated to an upper room to await the first Pentecost. Suddenly "fire from heaven" fell upon them, the true and holy and heavenly fire that purifies. James left his hide-out with the others and went to the far regions of the world preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Not much is known of his ministry after the Lord's resurrection, but it is believed that he lived another 14 years before his martyrdom. It is believed that within this 14 year period, James visited the Jewish colonist and slaves in Spain to preach the Gospel. It was when he returned to Jerusalem from Spain that he was captured. Herod looked upon James as a special capture. It is justifiable to assume that this Son of Thunder, by his zeal for Christ, had made himself particularly hateful to the Jews. They wanted to dispose of him more than of any other. James the apostle was enemy number one. What a vast amount of seed James had sown for Christ! And now, before he had time to reap harvest, before he had time to taste of the sweet cup, he was struck down by the blow of a criminal. It was around Easter time in the year 42. The mission of James was completed in his martyrdom for Christ, and immediately he received his reward. But Peter and the other apostles still had a whole world to win.

By this noble death the apostle James became "the Great" and "the First." He died before the first council of the apostles in 49 A.D, was not conducive to the development of legends concerning him. In the year 1082 a stately building was begun over what was believed to be the grace of this apostle martyr. Santiago de Compostella must be classed with Jerusalem and Rome as one of the three great attractions today for tourists on pilgrimage. From the tenth to the fifteenth centuries pilgrimages to the grave of James were world-famous. James the Elder was at one time the most popular of all the apostles, today he is the patron of Spain and the patron of pilgrims.

St. James the Great's feast day is on July 25.

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