St. James the Great was the son of Zebedee, a fisherman from Galilee, and Salome, a pious woman. His younger brother was John the Evangelist.
St. James the Great and his brother John were fishing with their father Zebedee when Jesus invited them to follow Him on His ministry (Matthew 4:19). Right there and then, they left their father and followed Jesus.
They were called Boanerges (son of thunder) by Jesus because of their impulsiveness. When a Samaritan town did not receive Jesus, the brothers suggested that He should call down fire from heaven to consume it. Jesus reprimanded them for vengeful attitude.
St. James the Great witnessed Jesus teaching with authority in the synagogue and the cure of Simon’s mother-in-law. He was present, together with John and Peter, when Jesus raised Jairus’ daughter from the dead. He was chosen to be among the apostles to accompany Jesus up to Mt. Tabor to pray. It was there that he witnessed the Transfiguration, with Jesus speaking to Moses and Elijah, as God spoke from a cloud. He also accompanied Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemani before He was arrested.
St. James the Great believed that he had power and authority over the other apostles and asked that Jesus have him and his brother sit on His right and left hand when He came into His glory. Jesus loved them so much that He did not castigate them; He just told them they did not know what they were asking. They only saw Jesus earthly throne but not the Cross that He had to carry.
The request of St. James the Great angered the other apostles but Jesus used the opportunity to teach all of them that in order to be great one must be a servant.
St. James the Great was the first apostle to die as a martyr. During the persecution under King Herod Agrippa I in the year 44, St. James was captured and condemned to death. It was said that the man who arrested James was so impressed by his courage that he became a convert. He spoke at his trial and was executed with him.
As we celebrate the Feast of St. James the Great, let us remember his courage. Let us also pray that we may be privileged to be special friends of Jesus and be willing to abandon everything to follow Him.