And now another episode of Bearded Gospel History, with Sir Timothy Braun!
Today marks the feast of James the Apostle, a.k.a. James the Greater (well la-dee-daa, James!), a.k.a. James the Elder, a.k.a. James: Son of Thunder! This Bearded Gospel Man actually appears in the gospels themselves, so you just can’t get any more gospel-y than that!
Finally a man with a truly thunderous beard!
This week in our Bearded Gospel History we turn to the scriptures themselves to encounter a beard of Biblical proportions in James: fisherman, disciple, apostle, martyr, “Son of Thunder.”
OK, it’s kinda hard not to be a little jealous here. I mean, it’s rare enough that someone has a really cool nickname but to have the Messiah give you a nickname… that’s just unreal. Who cares that James had to share his nickname with his brother. When Jesus himself gives you a name like “Sons of Thunder” (Mk. 3:17) you just roll with it!
James had quite the wild ride. One day he and his brother, John, are fishing with their dad and all of a sudden they find themselves leaving everything behind in order to follow this carpenter’s son turned preacher. Jesus seems to have been particularly taken with these impetuous, rash brothers. Peter, James, and John formed a sort of ‘inner circle’ among Jesus’ 12 disciples and got to be a part of some pretty unique situations. Chief among these has to be the Transfiguration (Lk 9:28-36) and their time with Jesus at Gethsemane (Mt. 26:36-46).
But, like us all, James had his moments of really missing the point. The Gospel of Luke (9:51-56) tells us that, perhaps living up to their names and wanting to ‘play Zeus,’ James and John wanted to call down fire from heaven to consume those who wouldn’t accept Jesus. In response it simply says that Jesus rebuked them and kept on walking.
Also, in the Gospel of Mark (10:35-45), we read about how these brothers wanted to have seats of honour in the Kingdom of God. Jesus took it as an opportunity to teach about servant leadership: “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all.”
But perhaps the greatest honour that can be bestowed upon our bearded brother is that he was one of the first martyrs in Christian history. In Acts 12 we read about how Herod (probably Herod Agrippa I) decided to see what these “Christians” were made of. He arrested a number of Christians, and killed James.
We can’t know the exact circumstances under which he was killed but I’m inclined to think James probably mouthed off Herod. I can’t imagine James having the time of day for a guy like him. Either that or Herod was jealous of his beard. Who knows, maybe it was both.
Anyway, James is one of those guys that we can all identify with in some way. He shows us that, flaws and all, our Lord is willing to invite us into his ‘inner circle.’ And after encountering our risen Saviour, James was given grace enough to be faithful to the end, even the end of a sword. What an amazing brotherhood we belong to!
And so I leave you with a bearded blessing in honour of our brother, James: May you (and your beards!) endure to the end, resounding with the thunder of the Gospel.