James the Less

One of the Twelve Apostles of Jesus

Mark records that James' mother, Mary wife of Clopas and mother of James and Joses, was among that handful of women who stood at the foot of the cross. This indicates that James' father had two names, Alphaeus and Clopas. Since Matthew's father was also Alphaeus, it is possible that James and Matthew were half brothers.

James was blessed with a good mother. She was one of the loyal group that ministered to Jesus during the last months of his public ministry. She followed Jesus as he carried his cross to Golgotha (place of the skull, Calvary) and witnessed the suffering (agony, passion) of the crucified savior. She and Mary Magdalene quietly followed Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathaea and saw where they placed the body of Jesus. And Mary, the mother of James along with Mary Magdalene, plus the wife Zebedee, saw the empty tomb for the first time. Mark 16:

Three days later, the women were bringing spices to the tomb. But when they arrived they found that the tomb was empty. An angel sitting inside the tomb (sepulcher) said to them, " Do not be afraid,(amazed) you seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He is risen, he is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter,..." Mark 16:7

Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Salome, returned to Jerusalem. (Probably a reference to the city itself, since the tomb was outside the walls.) In Jerusalem they found the Apostles and told them all that had happened, but the Apostles did not believe them, the words the women spoke seemed to the men as an idle tale. Luke 24:11

Later that day two disciples were walking to their home in Emmaus. We know the name of one of the two, it was Cleopas. As the two walked along the road, they were joined by another. When this third person heard their talk , he inquired of them concerning the events they were discussing.

The two men ask the question, "Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?" The third person said, "What things?" And Cleopas described the events of Jesus' arrest, crucifixion." Luke 24:13ff, "but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel." v.21. They then include the report of the women concerning the empty tomb and the divine messenger's explanation and that the other disciples had gone to the tomb and, ..."found it just as the women had said, but him they did not see." V. 24.

The two disciples insist that the third man join them for a meal. It was at the meal when this third person took bread and blessed it, that their eyes were opened and knew him to be Jesus. "Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the scriptures?" Luke 24:32.

An ancient and reliable traditon identified the Cleopas of the Emmaus road incident with the Clopas who is the father of James the less. Cleopas is a Greek name and Clopas was it's Aramaic equivalent. If that is true, then what a family Mary and Cleopas had! Of three sons, two were apostles of Jesus. Mary is a support to Jesus during his ministry and a witness to the crucifixion and death of Jesus. She was one of the first to see the empty tomb and hear the angelic message of the Resurrection. To her husband Clopas was given the grace to experience one of Jesus' appearences after the resurrection. To think of this family is to think of those who were very intimate with Jesus.

But what of James? We know very little. He may have been called the "Less" because there were two James in the twelve. And what did this James do? Of that we also know very little. During the last crucial days of his Lord's life his activities and whereabouts are unknown. In fact, his name appears in the New Testament only in connection with someone else.

Remarkable! James lived in the shadow of others. Some would say he was the lesser because they were the greater. His half brother, Matthew was a person who contributes to the Gospel that is named Matthew. The other James, the son of Zebedee, is one of the inner circle of Jesus' disciples composed of Peter, James and John. But the Lord has need of such self effacing men. Not everyone is the leader or the preacher or the organizer. Some are the "little ones" who do the work but get none of the credit.

Tradition says that James was stoned to death in Jerusalem and buried near to the Temple.

Matthew Mark Luke