The final words of the captain of the all-conquering 1974 British and Irish Lions team, Willie John McBride, to the squad of Irish, Welsh, Scots and English players who comprised his touring party to South Africa were: ‘gentlemen it’s been a pleasure to journey with you.’
And, I guess the point of studying the saints and indeed of having the patronage of a saint is to make our journey with them. This implies relating to their story and being inspired, even challenged, by their story. St. James, if we will let him, is capable of both inspiring us and challenging us. Like all the saints James was an imperfect, floored, human being. He was both proud and, ultra-competitive. He also had the ultimate pushy mum! He wanted to reside on a throne next to Jesus partly so that he can get one over his cousins Andrew and Peter.
Like all of us he had to learn the virtues of ethics and, service. He needed to accept the real value in being ‘the least.’ He needed, like all of us, to learn that Christian vocation is best done from below, on our knees, down near the muck and crud. He needed to learn that Christian service involves getting dirt under our finger nails and, that holiness is in fact a dirty, sometimes dangerous, business.
He also needed to learn that the only way that he could make the journeys from pride to humility, from self service to serving others, and ultimately from earth to heaven was by following Jesus and by being prepared to live a Christ-centred life. I would want to suggest that we are all invited to make similar journeys to James.
When James started his journey as a follower of Jesus he clearly had a fixed destination in mind – a throne beside Jesus – and, probably a clear view of how he was going to get there. Basically he wanted to get there by doing great and heroic things. He didn’t countenance that he might have to do some pretty lowly and servile things. He didn’t want to suffer in St. Paul’s language a series of earthly deaths. He also didn’t countenance how it might all end up, both for Jesus and himself. He didn’t as yet know that Jesus earthly journey was going to end up in crucifixion and, his own journey in martyrdom.
James like all of us had to learn the art of hanging faithfully on in there when we felt ‘perplexed,’ ‘struck down,’ and ‘destroyed.’ Let me make one perhaps obvious point which is that to follow Jesus when we feel these things is to live as though we really believe in the resurrection.
The mistake the young, immature, James made was to hope for a painless and manifestly successful journey towards his eternal destiny; the realisation that the mature James came to is that this is a contradiction in terms.
So the challenge posed by James and many of the saints is simply this: is your following of Jesus contingent on the quality of the journey on offer, or are you prepared to follow Jesus as it were blindly and with humility, trusting him to bring you home?
Ultimately the saints and especially St James remind us that our lives are journeys; journeys if we choose to the very heart of God and to our eternal destiny and that making the journey successfully requires us to embrace the virtues of humility, service and, trust; trust in Jesus Christ and his saving grace, whatever circumstances we find ourselves in.
Inspired by St. James, and indeed Willie John MacBride, let’s make those journeys together, for then will we truly conquer, Amen.
Rev. Andrew Lightbown