Tuesday, July 24, 2012

We Can Be Transformed

We Can Be Transformed

July 25, 2012
Feast of Saint James, apostle

By Colleen O'Sullivan

Brothers and sisters:  We hold this treasure in earthen vessels, that the surpassing power may be of God and not from us.  (2 Corinthians 4:7)

The mother of the sons of Zebedee approached Jesus with her sons and did him homage, wishing to ask him for something.  He said to her, “What do you wish?”  She answered him, “Command that these two sons of mine sit, one at your right and the other at your left, in your Kingdom.”  Jesus said in reply, “You do not know what you are asking.  Can you drink the chalice that I am going to drink?”  They said to him, “We can.”  He replied, “My chalice you will indeed drink, but to sit at my right and at my left, this is not mine to give but is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father.”  (W)hoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave.  Just so, the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.”  (Matthew 20:20-23, 26b-28)


We hold a treasure
Not made of gold
In earthen vessels, wealth untold
One treasure only, the Lord, the Christ
In earthen vessels.

(from “Earthen Vessels,” by John Foley, St. Louis Jesuits, You can listen to it at:   http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RLkc473jcV4)


Today we celebrate the feast of St. James, the apostle.  James, together with his brother John and Peter, is part of Jesus’ inner circle.  As we read through the Gospels, we find him present at the Transfiguration, at the healing of Peter’s mother-in-law, and at the healing of Jairus’ little girl.  Jesus also asks James, as well as John and Peter, to stay awake and pray with him in the Garden of Gethsemane.  Clearly, Jesus values James’ friendship.

Yet, as we look at James’ life as depicted in the Gospels, we realize the truth of what Paul says in his second letter to the Corinthians.  We are far from perfect.  We are like earthen vessels, subject to flaws, cracking and breaking.  Just look at today’s Gospel reading.   What a self-centered lot we read about!  I wonder what happened behind the scenes just prior to these verses.  Did James and John think their mother had greater pull with the Lord than they did, and that if she asked that they be allowed to sit at Jesus’ right and left in heaven, the Lord would be more likely to say okay?  Or was their mother a “tiger mom,” always pushing her kids’ cause?  We’ll never know.  Matthew says it was the mother who asked; Mark says it was the sons.  Either way, they were all clueless with regard to the nature of Jesus’ ministry.

At one point, the Lord refers to both James and John as “sons of thunder.”  They are headstrong and impulsive.  They can also be vengeful.  When some Samaritan villagers refuse Jesus and his friends hospitality because they are headed to Jerusalem, James and his brother think a fitting response on Jesus’ part would be to call down fire upon the village! (Luke 9:51-56)

The good news, that which gives me hope, is that God, through the power of the Holy Spirit, seizes James and transforms him.  This man, who couldn’t stay awake with Jesus in his moments of inner agony in the Garden, who ran away in fear with all the other disciples when the Romans seized his friend, this self-centered, status-seeking, sometimes vengeful human being becomes a different person in the hands of God.

What a turn-around!  James becomes such an evangelizer for Christ that he is the first of the apostles to be martyred, in 44 A.D. by King Herod Agrippa I.  We don’t know much for certain about his ministry after Jesus’ death, but legends abound.  To read more about St. James and some of the legends, you can go to Catholic Encyclopedia at:  www.newadvent.org/cathen/08279b.htm.


Reread Paul’s words when you have time today, “We hold this treasure in earthen vessels, that the surpassing power may be of God and not from us.” When I read these words, I picture myself as a clay pot, chipped, cracked and broken in some places, useless in and of itself.  We are all sinful and flawed in some way, but when we offer ourselves to the Lord and are open to the working of the Holy Spirit within us, we can be transformed, just as the apostle James was transformed.  God can work in and through our brokenness to accomplish great things in his name.

When you are praying today, take an honest look at yourself.  Offer to God your sins, your weaknesses and imperfections.  Be open to the Lord’s overwhelming love for you and God’s redemptive powers as was the apostle James. 

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