James, the son of Zebedee and brother of John the Evangelist, was one of the original twelve apostles called by Jesus Christ. His call to discipleship took place as he worked on a fishing boat in the Sea of Galilee alongside his father and brother, reminiscent of Jesus’ earlier calling of another pair of fishing brothers, Peter and Andrew. The account, recorded in Mark 1:19-20, describes how James and John promptly left their father and their livelihood to follow Jesus.
Being part of the inner circle, James was among the select three disciples privileged to witness significant biblical events. These included Jesus’ Transfiguration, the resurrection of Jairus’s daughter, and Jesus’ anguished prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane.
Two Gospel incidents shed light on James’ temperament and that of his brother John. One, as described in Matthew 20:22, revolves around a request for seats of honor in the heavenly kingdom. Whether this request came from James and John or their mother, as some accounts suggest, Jesus’ response was the same. He prophetically told them they would share in his baptism of suffering but clarified that granting positions of honor was the prerogative of the Father.
This event provoked indignation among the other disciples and served as an opportunity for Jesus to underscore the virtue of humble service. He taught them that true leadership and authority come from serving others, a principle exemplified in his sacrificial life.
James and John, also known as the “sons of thunder,” lived up to their nickname on an occasion when the Samaritans refused to welcome Jesus. Reacting impulsively, they asked Jesus if they should call down fire from heaven to consume the Samaritans, an idea swiftly rebuked by Jesus.
James holds the unfortunate distinction of being the first apostle to be martyred, as recorded in Acts 12:1-3. King Herod, seeking to please the Jews, had James killed by the sword and subsequently arrested Peter.
This account refers to James, often known as James the Greater, distinct from James the Lesser (celebrated on May 3), and James, the author of the Letter of James and the leader of the Jerusalem community.