(21st Sunday after Pentecost) (Luke 8:5-15)
In the reading today from the Gospel according to St. Luke, we hear the Parable of the Sower, who went out into the field to sow his seed. From our Lord’s explanation, we know that the seed is the word of God, and that the field is the world. But who is the one sowing the seed?
Today is the feast of the Apostle James, the brother of the Lord. Technically, of course, because he is the son of Joseph, the betrothed of the Theotokos, he is the “stepbrother” of the Lord; but the language and culture of that time did not make such distinctions. They lived in the same household, and called the same man, “Father”; and when Joseph took Mary and the infant Jesus into Egypt to escape from Herod the Great, James went with them. He was attentive to the teachings and practices of our Lord, and was counted as one of the seventy apostles. James became the bishop of Jerusalem, a ministry he carried for thirty years. He was an effective preacher and leader, and an ascetic, living on bread and water, and frequently keeping all-night vigils in prayer on his knees – so much so that it is said that the skin on his knees was as tough as that on the knees of a camel. Even the Jews had respect for his sense of justice, calling him, “James the Just.”
It was at the time of Pascha that James was taken by the Jews to the roof of the Temple in Jerusalem. There he was ordered to proclaim to those who had come to celebrate our Lord’s Resurrection from the dead a denial of all that the Church holds true. Instead, he spoke with boldness to proclaim Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God, the promised Messiah. He declared the truth of our Lord’s Resurrection, and His Ascension into glory in heaven. For this, he was thrown from the roof of the Temple; but, although he was badly injured, this did not kill him. As he prayed that his tormentors might be forgiven, he was stoned, meeting his death when a vicious blow to the head fractured his skull. Thus, he died a martyr’s death.
It is fair to say that the holy Apostle James died as he lived: sowing the seed of faith. That is, in a way, what an apostle does. Apostles bring the proclamation of the Christian faith to peoples who had not yet heard the good news of our salvation in Jesus Christ. To be an apostle, then, is to be a “missionary” – bringing knowledge of the faith, and the Orthodox way of life, to those who do not know about our Lord Jesus Christ, and what He has done for us, and how to participate in the blessing He desires to give to all mankind.
Most of us are never going to be an apostle. We will never, in all probability, be traveling to distant lands to preach the Gospel. But, on the other hand, it isn’t necessary to go far away to be a missionary – because right outside the door to the Church is a city, and a nation, full of people who do not know about Jesus Christ, and Pascha, and the ascetic way of life by which each of us can be transformed from who we are into more fully showing forth the life of Christ in us. Many of them will think they know Who Jesus is, and about prayer, and fasting, and giving – and maybe even about struggling to live a holy life. This makes the task a bit more difficult; but even so, we have a job to do; we have a message to proclaim. We have seeds to plant.
Does your life say to others that you believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God? Does what you say, and what you do, show the righteousness and holiness of Christ living in you? Do others know of the mercy and patience and love of God through you? If not, why not?
There is no shortage of those who hate our Lord Jesus Christ in the world today; nor is there any shortage of those who need to know of God’s love for mankind, manifested to us in Jesus Christ. May God grant to each of us the grace and strength we need to allow His Son our Lord to be made known to all the world through us; to the glory of God, and the salvation of souls.
Holy Apostle of Christ, James, pray to God for us!