Apostolic Ambitions, and the Wife and Sons of Zebedee | Catholic National Register


SCRIPTURES AND ART: Following Jesus was clearly a family affair in Zebedee’s house.

A lot can be said about the Apostles, but (at least according to the Gospel of Saint Mark) one thing is certain: they are not lacking in ambition. Last month Peter was rebuked for wanting Jesus to save mankind on Peter’s terms (i.e. salvation without the cross) rather than the Father’s. Also last month, Jesus had to take a child in his hand for the apostles to interrupt their debate about their “greatness.”

They are getting back to it.

In today’s Gospel, brothers James and John ask Jesus to “sit on your right and on your left in glory”.

Every Sunday we proclaim our faith in Jesus who “sits at the right hand of the Father, from where he will return in glory to judge the living and the dead.”

The right hand of God is the place of his power and his glory. The Jews knew this, which is why when Stephen saw “the heavens open and the Son of man standing at the right hand of God” (Acts 7:56; cf. Daniel 7: 13-14, Matthew 26:63 -68), they stoned him.

Over the past year, Mark has repeatedly invoked the “messianic secret,” that is, he told the recipients of Jesus’ healings, exorcisms and other miracles not to speak. of what happened “until the Son of man rose from the dead.” Jesus is aware of the political connotations of Messianic expectations in his day, and does not want to encumber his mission of salvation with these temporal barnacles. The disciples of Jesus are not prepared to speak of him with precision until his passion, death and resurrection, that is, until – as Paul Harvey said – they have had “the rest of history ”.

The identity of Jesus is incomprehensible apart from his passion, death and resurrection. That’s why Peter deserves a reprimand. This is why Jesus must repeatedly interrupt the insensitive speculations of his apostles about their importance.

It didn’t stop James and John.

When, despite his repeated injunctions, James and John persist in their quest for club seats in what they deem to be the big apocalyptic Super Bowl, Jesus immediately links what they ask to his identity. “Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?” Their jejune answer is: “yes”.

Well, they will. James will die a martyr and John, although traditionally the last apostle to die, will stand under his Master’s cross until the bitter end.

Needless to say, the efforts of the sons of Zebedee to secure seats on the 50-meter eschatological line did not tie them to the other apostles. In addition to Jesus’ awareness of his impending passion, he had to deal with 11 ambitious and immature men and a thief who likely scolded Jesus for not having one.

Mark presents James and John as ambitious autodidacts, themselves asking Jesus for improvements in the Judgment Seats. Matthew (20, 20-28) presents us with a similar scene, in which it is the mother of James and John who asks for the status of her sons. The two are not mutually exclusive, for apostolic ambition is not lacking in the synoptic gospels.

This week’s painting depicts the scene from Matthew’s perspective. Veronese’s oil painting, “Christ Meets the Wife and Sons of Zebedee,” dates from around 1565 and is currently on display in Grenoble, France.

Active in the 16th century in and around Venice, Paolo Caliari took the name “Veronese” because of his hometown of Verona. Véronèse painted on a large scale (her works are immense) and composed many cycles of biblical and mythological subjects. By the time Veronese is painting, Italy is at the end of the Renaissance, awaiting the Baroque: some claim that Veronese has characteristics of mannerism, an art style that tends towards exaggeration and elegance (in contrast to the proportions strict and to the harmonies of Renaissance painting), although others claim that he primarily had his style, especially in his use of color.

The painting of Veronese shows the mother of Zebedee accompanied by two very young men, presenting them to Jesus. Tradition has it that John was the youngest of the apostles but – at least from our point of view – Veronese seems to have exaggerated the youth of the sons of Zebedee, especially when compared with the rest of the apostolic band. The younger (John?) Looks forward and lovingly, the older (James?) Hopefully as one can imagine their good Jewish mother putting stereotypically “a good word for my boys”. (Perhaps our modern tastes would have preferred two older sons slightly embarrassed by their mother’s importunity).

The other five older apostles are not particularly welcoming to this woman and these upstarts. The one most directly in front of the mother, in orange, takes a pose of annoyance and frustration. Instead, Jesus appears with a look of “yet?”

The painting reflects the middle period from which it came: Renaissance porticoes and architecture but exaggerated elegance and dynamic but somewhat artificial movement (expressed in the folds of clothing that one might think a little more refined than that of the average Galilean fisherman ). While the characters in the painting are loaded on the left, their postures and especially their varied head angles (as well as the slightly off-center columns) create a balance in the shift to the left.

Remember that in the Gospels Jesus had chosen the sons of Zebedee to be apostles long before this episode. The mother of James and John appears elsewhere in the Gospels, for example among the women who “had followed Jesus from Galilee to provide for himself” and were witnesses of the crucifixion (Matthew 27:56). Following Jesus was clearly a family affair in Zebedee’s house.


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