We hold this treasure in earthen vessels, that the surpassing power may be of God and not from us.
2 Corinthians 4:7
Today the Church celebrates the Feast of St. James. St. James was the elder son of Zebedee. He and his brother, John, were among the first disciples of our Lord. St. James was the first apostle to be martyred.
The verse above is from the first reading of today's Mass. It tells us that we hold within us the wonderful treasure of God Himself. God has chosen to work this way to bless us, restore us to His friendship, and show His immeasurable glory and power to a world still in doubt of Him, but desperately in need of Him. St. James was a man who was a great example of the truth of this verse.
He and his brother, along with their father, were fishermen. These were not educated or eloquent men. They are not what we would think of as being ideally suited for the job ahead. We would look for seminary trained men, men of high education, men of charismatic personality, and skilled in logic and rhetoric. We have no indication that James was any of these things. In addition, James and his brother were known as the Sons of Thunder. This presumably indicates that he was a man of deep passion and a quick temper. This does not sound like a good candidate for beginning the kingdom of God. But Jesus thought otherwise.
Our Lord saw in James a true diamond in the rough. He called both sons to follow him and they did. They literally left everything to become the disciples of Jesus. They spent 3 years with Him learning of His teaching, observing His example, and training to take over upon His ascension. We see a number of times when they failed. Once they asked for the most prominent positions in the kingdom. On another occasion they, along with the other disciples, contended as to who would be the greatest. James is not at the cross when our Lord dies. He is among the others who fled. Yet, there came a point when James finally became the man our Lord knew he could be. He was filled with the Spirit along with the others on the day of Pentecost. He obeyed the commission of our Lord by joining with the other apostles to preach the Gospel of our Lord. Finally, there came a day when he needed to lay down his life for what he believed. The Scripture tells us very little about this. We read only that Herod killed James the brother of John with the sword, (Acts 12:2). What the Scripture has summarized, tradition has filled in. We have recorded for us the following story from Eusebius, an early Church historian. He cites Clement of Alexandria, a second century catechetical teacher as his source.
The man who brought him (James) to trial, on seeing him bear his testimony, was moved, and confessed that he was now a Christian himself. Accordingly, he says, they were both led away together. On the way, the other man asked James to forgive him. And after brief consideration, James said, "Peace be to you," and kissed him. And so both were beheaded together.
Though he did not possess the essential qualities for such a task in himself, once our Lord was living in him, he was transformed. This does not mean that he was perfected, but it does show the surpassing power of God.
It is the same for us. God will inevitably call us to do things we are not naturally qualified to do. But as we rely on Him, He will show His surpassing power through us so that the glory may be to Him and not to us.