St. James was a fisherman like his father Zebedee and his brother John. He was on his father’s boat mending his nets when the Lord passed by. Jesus called James and John to become fishers of people, to join him in spreading the Good News. Zebedee watched as his two sons left the boat to follow Jesus.
With St. Peter and St. John, James was a special companion of Jesus. With them James was permitted to witness what the other apostles did not see. With them he watched as Jesus raised the daughter of Jairus to life. With them he was taken up the mountain to see Jesus shining like the sun, with his robes as white as snow. This event is called Jesus’ Transfiguration. On Holy Thursday, the night before he died, Jesus led the apostles into the garden of Gethsemane. Matthew’s Gospel tells us he invited Peter, James, and John to accompany him to a secluded area to pray. They watched as the Master’s face became saddened with grief. It was a very difficult time for the Lord, but the apostles were exhausted. They fell asleep. Then St. James ran in fear when the enemies of Jesus took him away. James was not near the foot of the cross on Good Friday. But the Lord met up with him on Easter Sunday evening in the upper room. The resurrected Jesus came through the locked door and said, “Peace be to you.” St. James and the other apostles would find that peace after the Holy Spirit’s coming on Pentecost.
St. James began his ministry as an impulsive, outspoken man. He asked Jesus bluntly for a seat of honor in his kingdom. He demanded that Jesus send fire down on the villages that did not receive the Lord. But he had great faith in Jesus. Eventually, James learned to become humble and gentle. And he did become “first” in a way he could never have imagined. He was given the honor of being the first apostle to die for Jesus. Chapter 12 of the Acts of the Apostles tells us that King Herod Agrippa had St. James put to death by the sword. As a martyr James gave the greatest witness of all.