SONS OF THUNDER
"And James the son of Zebedee, and John the brother of James; and he surnamed them Boanerges, which is, The sons of thunder." Mark 3:17
The two fishermen, the brothers James and John, who had left their boat and their nets on the shore at Capernaum in order to go with Jesus, form together with Peter a sort of favorite threesome. They are the only ones who accompany Jesus into the house of Jairus, and on the Mount of Transfiguration, and they are the ones whom He takes with Him on the night of Gethsemane. But in spite of their long intimacy with the Master, they never acquired sufficient humility. Jesus gave them the surname of "Boanerges—Sons of Thunder," an ironic surname, alluding perhaps to their fiery, hot-tempered character.
When they all started together towards Jerusalem. Jesus sent some of them ahead to make ready for Him. They were crossing Samaria and were badly received in a village. "And they did not receive him, because his face was as though he would go to Jerusalem. And when his disciples, James and John, saw this, they said: Lord, wilt thou that we command fire to come down from heaven and consume them? But he turned, and rebuked them." (Luke 9:53-54) For them, Galileans, faithful to Jerusalem, the Samaritans were always enemies. In vain had they heard the Sermon on the Mount: "Do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you." (Matt. 5:44) In vain had they received instructions for their mission among the peoples: "And whosoever shall not receive you, nor hear your words, when ye depart out of that house or city, shake off the dust from your feet." (Matt. 10:14) Angry at an disrespect to Jesus they presumed to be able to command fire from Heaven. It seemed to them a work of righteous justice to reduce to ashes the village guilty of inhospitality. And yet far as they were from that loving rebirth of the soul which alone constitutes the reality of the Kingdom of Heaven, these men had the pretension to claim the first places on the day of triumph.
“And James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came unto him, saying: Master, we would that thou should do for us whatsoever we should desire. And he said unto them: What would ye that I should do for you? They said unto him: Grant unto us that we may sit one on thy right hand and one on thy left hand in thy glory. But Jesus said unto them: Ye know not what ye ask. And when the ten heard it they began to be much displeased with James and John. But Jesus called them to Him and saith unto them: Whosoever will be great among you let him be your minister; and whosoever will be the chief among you, let him be your servant, for even the Son of Man came not to be ministered unto but to minister.” (Mark 10:35-45)
Christ, the over turner of the old order, took this occasion to repeat the master word to which all worthy souls respond. Only the useless, the petty, the parasites, wish to be served, even by their inferiors (if anyone in the absolute meaning of the word can be inferior to them), but any superior being is always at the service of lesser souls precisely because he is superior.* He wants not leaders but servants. (Matt. 23:10-11 NASB)
This miraculous paradox is the proof of the fire of genius. It is offensive to the egotism of the self-centered, to the pretensions of would-be supermen, and to the poverty of the greedy because the little that they have is not even enough for themselves. He who cannot or will not serve shows that he has nothing to give, is a weakling, impotent, imperfect, and empty. But the genius is no true genius if he does not energetically benefit his inferiors. To serve is not always the same as to obey. A people can be served better sometimes by a man who puts himself at their head to force them to be saved even if they do not wish it. There is nothing subservient in serving.
James and John understood this stimulating saying of Jesus. We find one of them, John, among the nearest and most loving of the disciples. At the Last Supper be leans his head on Jesus' breast; and from the height of the cross, Jesus, crucified, confides the Virgin to him that he should be a son to her.