Saturday, May 3, 2014

May 3 - James of Jerusalem, Martyr, One of the Twelve, Pillar of the Church

The scribes and the Pharisees--the religious elite of Israel in the year 62--came to James knowing that his word would be powerful to the assembled crowds. They were worried about the prevalence of Christians in the crowd and the seemingly contagious quality of what they were preaching and teaching. They must have known that James was a Christian because he did not make it a secret but, perhaps, they thought that he would bow before their influence because he spent his time among the Jews.They didn't need him to deny his faith but simply to offer a weak witness of it before the assembled crowds. So, they met him at the temple and said to him, "James, we're begging you to restrain those people! They've gone too far with their thoughts about Jesus. James, they even claim he was the Messiah!So, do us a favor and convince those in the crowd--the ones who have come here for Passover--about Jesus because they'll listen to you. We all know what a good and righteous man you are and we all know that you are impartial. So, go out there and tell them the truth about Jesus. They'll listen to you. In fact, why not go up to the top of the temple where everybody will be able to see and hear you. Everybody is here and they're ready to listen to you."

So, James climbed the stairs to the summit of the temple thinking about what he would say when he arrived there. While he climbed those stairs there were many thoughts flooding through his mind. He must have wondered why they thought he would try to convince the people not to follow after Jesus when he himself was a Christian, as well. He thought back to that night in the garden of Gethsemane when he, Peter, and John had been unable to stay awake long enough to watch after Jesus while he prayed. The words from that night echoed in his mind: "The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak." Did it feel now that his flesh was weak as he climbed the steps knowing that he would very likely soon be tested? He thought to that awful and beautiful night when Jesus had died upon the cross and been buried. He thought about the doubtful but undeniable hope that had spread through him when he first heard that Jesus had risen and how it had bloomed and overwhelmed his mind when he first laid his eyes upon the risen body of Jesus. He remembered that stand he had made on behalf of Paul when there had been the dispute about who it was that they should reach out to: Jews or Gentiles.James had given his opinion knowing that it would almost indubitably end the conversation. Peter, James, and John would continue reaching out to the Jews and Paul and his men would reach out to the Gentiles knowing that the converts need not become Jews to become Christians. He had insisted that, "we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God." All these thoughts flew through his mind as the steps he climbed--and the remaining seconds of his life--became less and less.

When he reached the top, the group that had begged him to make a statement stood just behind the doorway so that they might not be seen and the crowd might not suspect that this was a manipulated speech by James. James cleared his throat and surveyed the crowd full of Jews and some Gentiles. He thought of how each of those men and women were part of a calling and how it had been his own calling to reach out to them with truth and hope even if it cost him everything. People stopped their business and their walking to turn and look at the man standing on the temple. At first, it was one or two people who saw him by accident but soon every eye was on James as he spoke to them about Jesus and gave a loud voice to his testimony that Jesus was God and Savior. He testified to Jesus' death and resurrection and, finally, one of the crowd behind the door jumped out and pushed him off the temple. He fell and was badly injured. The assembled crowd--and his executioners--assumed he must be dead after the fall but he struggled to his knees so that he might pray: "Lord God our Father, I beg you to forgive them because they don't know what they're doing." The scribes and the Pharisees--and those loyal to them in the crowd--picked up stones and stoned James until he was dead.

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