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James and John, like Peter and Andrew, were brothers and fishermen. Their father, Zebedee, was a notable figure in the fishing industry, indicating his success and leadership. Zebedee had hired men to help run the business (Mk 1:20), suggesting the family’s prosperity and significant social standing. This background underscores the sacrifice James and John made when they left everything behind to follow Jesus.

Jesus nicknamed James and John as Boanerges, meaning “sons of thunder” (Mk 3:17). This nickname reflects their intense passion and enthusiasm. Their fervor was evident in various incidents, such as when they suggested calling down fire from heaven on a Samaritan village that did not welcome Jesus (Lk 9:54). Though sometimes misdirected, their zeal demonstrated their deep commitment and readiness to defend Jesus.

James and John, along with their mother Salome, asked Jesus for the privilege of sitting on His right and left in His kingdom (Mt 20:20-23). This request, while ambitious, revealed their misunderstanding of the nature of Jesus’ kingdom. They envisioned a temporal, earthly kingdom, not realizing the spiritual and sacrificial nature of Jesus’ mission.

Despite their initial misconceptions, James and John were part of Jesus’ inner circle, along with Peter. This inner circle had the unique privilege of witnessing significant moments in Jesus’ ministry. They were present at the raising of Jairus’ daughter (Mk 5:37), the Transfiguration (Mk 9:2), and Jesus’ agonizing prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane (Mk 14:33). These experiences undoubtedly shaped their understanding of Jesus and His mission.


James and John had a natural ambition for prominent positions among the apostles. Their desire for greatness is not unique to them; it is a common human trait. However, Jesus’ response to their request taught them, and us, a profound lesson in servant leadership. Jesus said, “But it shall not be so among you: but whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister; and whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant: even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many” (Mt 20:26-28).

This principle of servant leadership is revolutionary. It turns the world’s understanding of leadership upside down. In Jesus’ kingdom, greatness is measured by one’s willingness to serve others selflessly. This lesson is as valuable today as it was then. As Christians, we are called to follow Jesus’ example of humility and service.

James and John’s journey with Jesus transformed their ambition into a commitment to serve. James became the first apostle to be martyred (Acts 12:2), showing his ultimate dedication to Jesus. John, known as the apostle of love, emphasized love and service in his writings (1 John 4:7-12). The story of James and John teaches us about the transformative power of following Jesus. Their initial zeal and ambition were redirected towards selfless service and unwavering commitment to the gospel. As Christians, we should examine our ambitions and desires, aligning them with the teachings of Jesus. True greatness in the kingdom of God is not about power or prestige but about humility, love, and service.

Let us strive to embody the spirit of servant leadership in our daily lives. In our families, workplaces, and communities, may we seek to serve others, reflecting the love and humility of Jesus. By doing so, we honor the legacy of James and John and follow the path laid out by our Lord and Savior.

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