Today is the feast of St. James of Jerusalem, the brother of Our Lord. The readings for today contain one of the most heart-rendingly beautiful unfulfilled prophecies in Scripture: “Behold, I create Jerusalem a rejoicing, and her people a joy. I will rejoice in Jerusalem, and be glad in my people. No more shall be heard in it the sound of weeping and the cry of distress…They shall not labor in vain, or bear children for calamity; for they shall be the offspring of the blessed of the Lord…They shall not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain, says the Lord.” (Isaiah 65)
It is a hard thing to read these words and to drink in their beauty and then to open my mind to the chronic pain and loss and struggle that are associated with Jerusalem, a city that has hardly tasted peace. If these words are true, then they are in a work in progress; they point us toward the Last Things, the restoration of God’s goodness on the face of this earth.
For me, St. James himself points in the same direction. The first time he is mentioned in Scripture, it is as part of Jesus’ band of brothers: “for not even his brothers believed in him.” (John 7:5) They taunted Jesus; they did not see Who he was. But after the Resurrection, James’ heart was changed. He became the leader of the community of Jews in Jerusalem who followed Jesus, leading them into an acceptance of Paul’s work to evangelize the Gentiles. Because he himself was notable for his righteousness, praying always, taking upon himself the full demands of a holy life, he was able to intercede in public for those who struggled, begging mercy for the outcast, the sinner, the Gentile. In the end, the leaders of the Jews in Jerusalem begged James to renounce Jesus in public. Instead, James climbed to the pinnacle of the Temple and proclaimed Jesus as God. He was thrown to the pavement and bludgeoned to death.
If James had stopped changing early in his life, if he had never opened himself to the truth of Resurrection, the possibility of new life, he would never have become a martyr. He reminds me that each of us is a work-in-progress, a life in which Christ is being born, one day at a time. None of us can do it alone, for each of us needs help. We need the honest counsel of our friends; we need the gentle prodding of our neighbors; we need to be open to change if we are going to grow into Christ at all.
Someday, Jerusalem will be a place to gladden the heart.
Someday, voices of mercy will not be hurled down in scorn.
Thanks be to God.