Sunday, September 7, 2014

Parable of the Wedding Banquet (and James the Less): St. James the Less Church (London)


James the Less (St. James the Less Church, London)


I recently discovered that St. James the Less Church was mentioned in an episode of Sherlock (with Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman). The episode is called "The Empty Hearse," and in it Sherlock figures out that Dr. Watson is being held captive at St. James the Less Church. Sherlock and Mary race to the church on a motorcycle, and arrive just in time to save John, who was tied up and place inside a Guy Fawkes pyre that has just been lit (with petrol as an accelerant, to highlight the suspense). Unfortunately, in this episode, the church itself is not actually shown.

I took the above photo of the stained-glass window inside the church last June (2014). The window depicts Jacobus Minor--James the Less(er) or James the Minor. I include this photo in this blog on the reception history of the parables, because my last book--also a reception history book--was on the Epistle of James: James Through the Centuries. The Epistle only claims to have been written by “James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ.” There are several people named James in the New Testament who are candidates for authorship, but it is clear that it refers to James the brother of Jesus (also called James of Jerusalem or James the Just). Another issue involves the question whether the book actually was written by James or by someone writing in his name. The situation becomes even murkier, because church tradition began to claim that Mary and Joseph never had any children, so James the brother of Jesus began to be seen as either (1) James, an older half-brother of Jesus, the son of Joseph from a previous marriage or (2) James the “cousin” of Jesus. Thus James of Jerusalem is also sometimes (erroneously) conflated with James the Less, one of the apostles, James the son of Alphaeus. The New Testament, though, portrays the brothers and sisters of Jesus (e.g., Mark 3:31–2; 6:3) as the actual (younger) children of Joseph and Mary. So the person the epistle implicitly claims as its author is James, the younger brother of Jesus.

James is often depicted with a fuller's club, because church tradition holds that he was killed by a blow from a fuller's club (he also often looks like Jesus, since he was Jesus' brother as well). You can see him holding a club in his left hand in the above picture. Josephus mentioned that James was executed by stoning, but we hear other traditions from from Eusebius. First, he cites Clement of Alexandria that James “was thrown from the pinnacle of the temple and was beaten to death with a club by a fuller . . .” (2.1.4). Eusebius also includes other details from Hegisippus:
The Scribes and Pharisees therefore placed James upon the pinnacle of the temple, and cried out to him and said: “Just one, in whom we ought all to have confidence, forasmuch as the people are led astray after Jesus, the crucified one, declare to us, what is the gate of Jesus.” 
And he answered with a loud voice, “Why do you ask me concerning Jesus, the Son of Man? He himself sits in heaven at the right hand of the great Power, and is about to come upon the clouds of heaven.”
And when many were fully convinced and gloried in the testimony of James, and said, “Hosanna to the Son of David,” these same Scribes and Pharisees said again to one another, “We have done badly in supplying such testimony to Jesus. But let us go up and throw him down, in order that they may be afraid to believe him.”
And they cried out, saying, “Oh! Oh! The just man is also in error.” And they fulfilled the Scripture written in Isaiah, “Let us take away the just man, because he is troublesome to us: therefore they shall eat the fruit of their doings” [Is 3:10].
So they went up and threw down the just man, and said to each other, “Let us stone James the Just.” And they began to stone him, for he was not killed by the fall; but he turned and knelt down and said, “I entreat you, Lord God our Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
And while they were thus stoning him one of the priests of the sons of Rechab, the son of the Rechabites, who are mentioned by Jeremiah the prophet, cried out, saying, “Cease, what are you doing? The just one prays for you.”
And one of them, who was a fuller, took the club with which he beat out clothes and struck the just man on the head. And thus he suffered martyrdom.
And they buried him on the spot, by the temple, and his monument still remains by the temple. He became a true witness, both to Jews and Greeks, that Jesus is the Christ. And immediately Vespasian besieged them (2.23.8–18).

At the bottom of the stained-glass window, then, you can see the martyrdom depicted, with James praying as he is about to be killed with the fuller's club.

The Parable of the Wedding Banquet (Matt 22:1-13)

Back to the sculptures of parables on the columns inside the church. I have already discussed in previous posts the sculptures of the parables of the Barren Fig Tree and the Sower. The next one I want to discuss is the sculpture that shows the last section of the parable of the Wedding Banquet in Matthew 22:1-13. The image depicts verses 11-13:

11 But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing a wedding robe, 12and he said to him, “Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?” And he was speechless. 13Then the king said to the attendants, “Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

Verses 11-13 of the Parable of the Wedding Banquet (Matthew 22)

The king is seated in the left He wears a crown on his head and gestures to the attendant to remove the man. A pitcher and goblet from the banquet appear on the table behind him. On the right side of the image, we see the attendant grabbing the man by his shoulder. The man has a shorter garment than the others, and he has a small bag slung over his shoulder. He faces away from us, perhaps in the hope that the viewers will not join him and also be cast "into the outer darkness."

This image thus, like the other two sculptures we have examined in St. James the Less Church so far, offers a warning to the parishioners viewing the images. Are they as prepared as they should be for entrance into the kingdom of God? 

The next two sculptures we will examine will portray the overwhelming worth of the kingdom of God; they give positive encouragement about its worth and what we should do to be ready for it.

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