LM @ GC Play-In: James the Great vs. James the Less

Everything’s bigger in Texas. That’s what people keep telling us as the Episcopal Church gathers for its triennial General Convention in Austin. Since the Supreme Executive Committee believes nothing is bigger than Lent Madness, we fit right in here!

We have a Texas-sized play-in match taking place TODAY as James the Great battles James the Less in a winner-take-all throw-down to become the first saint to crack the 2019 Lent Madness bracket. You can vote in one of two ways: online here OR by casting a special purple ballot at the Forward Movement booth in the Exhibit Hall. Polls will be open from 8:00 am to 5:00 pm Eastern time today only. It’s a short window, so cast your vote and tell all your friends to get to the polls! (as always, we encourage voting early but not often).

If you’re in Austin, stop by the Forward Movement booth to meet Tim and Scott, take a selfie with an actual golden halo, and register your complaints about past and future brackets (which the SEC will “take under advisement”). For eagle-eyed attendees, you’ll also have the opportunity to spy Distinguished Celebrity Bloggers/General Convention Deputies Laurie Brock, Megan Castellan, and David Sibley.

We’re grateful to veteran Celebrity Blogger David Creech for writing bios for both James the Great and James the Less (everyone else was either on vacation, working at the Convention, or ignored our email).

You can take your cattle ranches and giant slabs of barbecue. Nothing’s bigger than Lent Madness in July!

James the Great

James the Great is the portrait of an imperfect saint. He is called “the Great” to distinguish him from “the Less.” The moniker denotes his prominence in the early tradition, not his superiority over the many other Jameses (if we’re honest here, James the Just has to take the cake).

James is the older brother of John. They were fishermen with their father Zebedee until Jesus called them to follow him (see Mark 1:19-20). Bucking convention, where the student seeks the master, James and John dropped everything to follow Jesus. James is given a special place in the Gospels as an early follower of Jesus and as one who is given special access. He, along with Peter and John, is one of the few witnesses to the raising of Jairus’ daughter (Mark 5:35-43), the Transfiguration (Mark 9:2-9), and Jesus’ agony in the Garden of Gethsemane (Mark 14:32-42).

In spite of this privileged place, James often exhibits weakness and lack of insight. He gives all of us hope. He and his brother are called “Sons of Thunder,” presumably because of their impetuousness. (Later hagiographers would say they were given the name for their thunderous, and effective, preaching.) In the Gospel of Luke, when a Samaritan village does not welcome Jesus, James and John ask if they should call fire from heaven to consume the village (Luke 9:51-56). James, with Peter and John, doesn’t understand the Transfiguration. He falls asleep while Jesus agonizes in the Garden. When Jesus tells his followers he must be rejected, condemned to death, mocked, and crucified, James and John reply by asking if they can be seated at his right and left hand in power (see Mark 10:32-40). According to Mark, James flees the crucifixion scene.

In the Gospel tradition, James’ name always precedes John’s. Curiously, once Luke begins to tell his tale in Acts, James disappears while Peter and John act as the most prominent leaders of the nascent movement. This is perhaps because James, as the first martyr for the Jesus movement, was killed by Herod in the early 40s (see Acts 12:2). In a story recounted by Clement of Alexandria, James’ defense before Herod was so effective that the guard who was charged with watching him was converted and the two were killed together.


O gracious God, we remember your servant and apostle James, first among the Twelve to suffer martyrdom for the Name of Jesus Christ; and we pray that you will pour out upon your Church that spirit of self-denying service by which alone we may have faithful witness among your people; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

 David Creech


James the Less

Little is remembered about James the son of Alphaeus. Part of the difficulty is the commonness of the name James in the New Testament. We have no less than four Jameses and often little more than their name. This confusion about the various Jameses has led to a conflation of these lesser Jameses into a single James the Less. Some affiliate him with Jesus’ brother and the leader of the Jerusalem community, James the Just, but this connection is difficult to maintain. His appellation, “the Less,” is derived from Mark 15:40, where the mother of James, the younger, is described as one of the women witnessing Jesus’ crucifixion. Again the connection here is tendentious.

To add insult to injury, his name is not even James. Through a strange twist of fate and the peculiarities of medieval pronunciation of Latin (and perhaps with a little help from the translation of the Bible commissioned by King James), his original name, Jacob, has been translated consistently in English as James for over four centuries.

In spite of this obscurity, James the Less was a member of Jesus’ closest circle. Although the lists of Jesus’ closest disciples vary from Gospel to Gospel, James is included in all the lists of the 12 and he is always listed first in the last group of four (see Matt 10:1-4, Mark 3:16-19, Luke, 6:13-16, and Acts 1:12-14). This prominence over the last group of four has led some to speculate that James the Less was particularly influential in the Jewish mission of the early Jesus followers. If this suggestion is followed, James the Less occupies an important position alongside Peter and Philip in the earliest movement. Peter heads the first list of four as prominent in the Jesus movement generally. Philip heads the second list of four as a leader in the Hellenistic community of believers.

Later tradition has that James traveled to Egypt and was eventually martyred there.


O God, you have brought us near to an innumerable company of angels, and to the spirits of just men made perfect: Grant us during our earthly pilgrimage to abide in their fellowship, and in our heavenly country to become partakers of their joy; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

– David Creech

James the Great vs. James the Less

  • James the Great (64%, 990 Votes)
  • James the Less (36%, 548 Votes)

Total Voters: 1,538

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 Images: Wikimedia Commons. James the Great, Guido Reni (1575-1642). James the Less, El Greco (1541-1614).



56 Comments to "LM @ GC Play-In: James the Great vs. James the Less"

  1. Patricia White's Gravatar Patricia White
    July 9, 2018 - 8:11 am | Permalink

    Woohoo, an early opportunity to be part of the anticipated Lentmadness action. Does Oliver know?

  2. Amy Clayton's Gravatar Amy Clayton
    July 9, 2018 - 8:17 am | Permalink

    Had to go with the Great James, seeing as how you all, and our prayers, are in Texas. Fare well til March!

    • Marian the Lutheran's Gravatar Marian the Lutheran
      July 9, 2018 - 10:25 am | Permalink

      Oh, you Episcopalians! Always making me think and follow in the footsteps of Katerina Von Bora and Martin Luther! After much thinking, I must go with Great. Here is a man who knows what is right (following Jesus), tries to do what is right (comforting at The Garden and many others), repeatedly falls down (or falls asleep), yet still preaches life everlasting and is willing to die for his beliefs. He is the proto-Christain on whom we all are unwittingly modeled.

      • July 9, 2018 - 5:05 pm | Permalink

        Amen, Marian –
        And I’m jealous of our leaders in Austin, a wonderful town!
        It’s lovely to hear from the Lent Madness community in the summer – the community of people sharing their comments, and their faith, is truly the heart, and true joy, of Lent Madness – Happy Summer!
        Mary Beth

  3. Shannon's Gravatar Shannon
    July 9, 2018 - 8:20 am | Permalink

    I had to vote Less. As one who was always called by the wrong name, Sharon instead of Shannon, I could empathize with poor Jacob/James.

  4. July 9, 2018 - 8:21 am | Permalink

    Because of my devotion to his brother John, the other “dunderhead” (from the German donner, thunder), I have to go with James the Great.

    He may not be “beloved,” but he’s pretty good.

    P.S. I think you might mean “first Apostle and martyr,” as I’m pretty sure Stephen got there first (Acts 7:54).

  5. Alice Pantfoeder's Gravatar Alice Pantfoeder
    July 9, 2018 - 8:26 am | Permalink

    Thank goodness for a small dose of LM IN JULY! (Not that I’d ever wish for more Lent than we already have on the church calendar.) ~ Almost went for the Less but was compelled by the story of The Great converting his guard.

  6. Pamela W Hull's Gravatar Pamela W Hull
    July 9, 2018 - 8:32 am | Permalink

    James the Great. He , like so many of the disciples, reminds us of our frailty and strength. And how errant and selfish our ways can be sometimes in spite of our devotion and love of the Lord.

  7. Peg S.'s Gravatar Peg S.
    July 9, 2018 - 8:33 am | Permalink

    Having trouble making up your mind? This won’t help, but it’s nice listening: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7qsjqtutqkA

  8. Robyn's Gravatar Robyn
    July 9, 2018 - 8:39 am | Permalink

    I am so excited to vote in July!!! Yahoo and yippee as we say in Texas!! Wish i could be in Austin this week, but alas i am stuck up in the Panhandle. I can’t wait to see what Oliver writes also…thanks for this fun in the sun that has brightened my day!

    • Linda Burnett's Gravatar Linda Burnett
      July 9, 2018 - 11:28 am | Permalink

      I was born in Dalhart. There are worst places be stuck than the Texas Panhandle. For instance, Austin in August.

  9. July 9, 2018 - 8:44 am | Permalink

    Have to go with James the Less . . . currently exhausted with people in privileged places having no insight

    • Jean's Gravatar Jean
      July 9, 2018 - 3:47 pm | Permalink


    • Conny Santana's Gravatar Conny Santana
      July 11, 2018 - 8:23 am | Permalink

      Hahaha! Great comment. I just received this email to vote this morning and would have voted for JtL also but wasn’t sure why exactly. Your comment expresses it precisely!

  10. Judith's Gravatar Judith
    July 9, 2018 - 8:46 am | Permalink

    The Less, for all the faithful whom we don’t know much about—but that they followed faithfully.

  11. Jane Christmas's Gravatar Jane Christmas
    July 9, 2018 - 8:48 am | Permalink

    Let’s not forget that pilgrims everywhere know James the Great as the namesake of the equally great (and challenging) Spanish pilgrimage route known as the Camino de Santiago de Compostela.

  12. Timothy J. Mannion's Gravatar Timothy J. Mannion
    July 9, 2018 - 8:57 am | Permalink

    I had to go with James the great, because I want sure which of the lesser James’ was worth of a vote. So there, S.E.C., take it or leave it!

  13. Bob P.'s Gravatar Bob P.
    July 9, 2018 - 9:06 am | Permalink

    Tough decision since there was no mention for either of direct lineage to UT Football. However, the artist rendering of James The Great has component overtones of Longhorn strategy. The Great it is.

    PS – Seriously, thanks for the Hill Country (Boerne) rain this morning.

    • Linda Burnett's Gravatar Linda Burnett
      July 9, 2018 - 11:30 am | Permalink

      James the Street comes to mind… I love your comment

  14. Fiona's Gravatar Fiona
    July 9, 2018 - 9:08 am | Permalink

    I have to vote for James the Great, partly for his mother, who might be the parent he and John inherited their forthright nature from, and partly because of his faithful and powerful witness even when facing death. In a suitably penitent and Lenten spirit, I have to confess that I am never quite sure about amalgamated characters.

  15. Lane's Gravatar Lane
    July 9, 2018 - 9:14 am | Permalink

    This vote honors my cousin Pam and her pilgrimage along the camino.

  16. Anne Madden's Gravatar Anne Madden
    July 9, 2018 - 9:35 am | Permalink

    You guys make me happy to be Episcopalian…carry on, you are doing the Lord’s work!!

  17. Diana's Gravatar Diana
    July 9, 2018 - 9:41 am | Permalink

    James the Less, of course. Anyone stuck with a moniker like that deserves the support and compassion of all of us. Plus, the fact that he isn’t fighting the name is an indication that he is an example of true humility we all would do well to follow.

    Sing praise to God for James the Less;
    he-e knows how to be humble.
    Though his name hints of worthlessness
    his faithfulness ne’er tumbled.
    Was he one man, or one of four?
    Don’t worry, he still held the door
    for those he told of Jesus.

    Tune: Mit Freuden zart, aka
    “Sing praise to God who reigns above”
    Hymnal 408

  18. July 9, 2018 - 9:47 am | Permalink

    Tough call. I usually back the underdog, so was leaning toward the Less, but the Great human frailty pulled me to the other side. Perhaps Great is really more.

  19. Diana's Gravatar Diana
    July 9, 2018 - 9:48 am | Permalink

    Dear Lent Madness friends,
    Most of you will not have heard that faithful LM follower and frequent commenter Harlie Youngblood died recently. Please pray for him and for his wife the Rev. Susan Youngblood.
    Sr. Diana

    • July 9, 2018 - 9:52 am | Permalink

      Thank you for sharing this sad news. We build community one comment at a time here at Lent Madness and Harlie was an integral part of this. May Harlie’s soul, and the souls of all the faithful departed, rest in peace and rise in glory.

  20. Lisa Keppeler's Gravatar Lisa Keppeler
    July 9, 2018 - 9:48 am | Permalink

    What Emily Shepherd said. It’s James the ostensibly Less for me.

  21. Anita's Gravatar Anita
    July 9, 2018 - 10:11 am | Permalink

    Glad to have the madness in July. Looking forward to Lent next year

  22. July 9, 2018 - 10:45 am | Permalink

    Compelled to vote for James the Great because of the movie, The Way.

    • Susan's Gravatar Susan
      July 10, 2018 - 12:06 am | Permalink

      I, too, loved that movie!

  23. Doris Cook's Gravatar Doris Cook
    July 9, 2018 - 10:49 am | Permalink

    My boys are named Janes and John, of course I need to vote for James The Greater.

    • Joseph (Joe) John's Gravatar Joseph (Joe) John
      July 9, 2018 - 1:16 pm | Permalink

      LOVE IT. That is so great. Are they called Sons of Thunder?

  24. Rhee's Gravatar Rhee
    July 9, 2018 - 11:18 am | Permalink

    I am voting for James the Great, since he is the James of the Camino.

  25. Linda Burnett's Gravatar Linda Burnett
    July 9, 2018 - 11:24 am | Permalink

    As usual both very deserving. I have to say that you had me at fisherman. And in a shout out to Bishop Curry thunderous and effective preaching. Anyone who can fish and preach has my vote every time!

  26. John Miller's Gravatar John Miller
    July 9, 2018 - 11:31 am | Permalink

    And the last shall bde first–I think I read that somewhere…

  27. debbie hunter's Gravatar debbie hunter
    July 9, 2018 - 11:36 am | Permalink

    Wish I could be there to get my selfie with you all.

  28. Nelson Fenner's Gravatar Nelson Fenner
    July 9, 2018 - 11:57 am | Permalink

    Another tough decision, but James the Great has the pedigree to win the Golden Halo.

  29. James (Jim) Wiant's Gravatar James (Jim) Wiant
    July 9, 2018 - 12:48 pm | Permalink

    James is a great name, but I think Jim is a better name for the “lesser”. I admire his work as a leader in the very early Church in Jerusalem so Jim gets my vote.

  30. July 9, 2018 - 12:57 pm | Permalink

    Just had to vote for James the Less, come on, they didn’t even get his name right, he should at least be recognized…as someone who gets called the wrong name a lot, and few spell it correctly (both first and second names) I can empathize with his plight……

  31. Br. Thanasi Stama's Gravatar Br. Thanasi Stama
    July 9, 2018 - 12:59 pm | Permalink

    I voted for the Scallop Shell!

  32. Joseph (Joe) John's Gravatar Joseph (Joe) John
    July 9, 2018 - 1:15 pm | Permalink

    Had to vote for the Patron Saint of our church…especially since his Feast Day is coming up soon. AND, he is such an enigma. Still sorting through all the myths regarding St. James the Great and whether or not he REALLY did spend time in Spain. I like his zeal, oh Son of Thunder.

  33. Margaret Irwin's Gravatar Margaret Irwin
    July 9, 2018 - 1:40 pm | Permalink

    El Camino de Compostela did it for me. A truly holy experience. Here’s to James the Great, who supposedly washed ashore in a coffin, I’ve heard. Much easier than walking the Camino.

  34. Kim Rossi's Gravatar Kim Rossi
    July 9, 2018 - 4:13 pm | Permalink

    Voted for James the Great. Too much confusion on who James the Less actually is.
    So glad to be voting for LM in July. Stopped into the Forward Movement Booth at General Convention. Had a great time meeting Scott and Tim. Just love Lent Madness and the fun way we get to know the Saints through this program. Go Lent Madness”” How many more days until Lent??????

  35. July 9, 2018 - 4:29 pm | Permalink


  36. Abby Murphy's Gravatar Abby Murphy
    July 9, 2018 - 4:35 pm | Permalink

    Going with the Lesser James, both to make up for his troubles with keeping his own name and on the chance that he is indeed the brother of Jesus. Can you imagine how difficult it is to be the younger brother of someone who not only your mother thinks is the Son of God, but who actually is. Had to have been really annoying.

  37. Peggy Hans's Gravatar Peggy Hans
    July 9, 2018 - 4:53 pm | Permalink

    I’m in just under the wire from Southeastern Indiana. 4:52 pm. James the Great’s my vote.

  38. Beverly Duncan's Gravatar Beverly Duncan
    July 9, 2018 - 5:12 pm | Permalink

    I was tempted to vote for “the Less”simply because he is the underdog, but upon reflection it seems right to vote for him because he has been given short shrift. He was important to Jesus in spite of the confusion as to exactly which James he was; he was subjected to a change of name by the translators (as many were by customs officials!) So I think that he deserves his five minutes of fame (or infamy) in LM.

  39. Susan's Gravatar Susan
    July 9, 2018 - 5:18 pm | Permalink

    How could I vote for James the Lesser when he seems to be a combination of four men named James, and his name was really Jacob! So, for all his flaws, James the Greater got my vote.
    (Thanks for a bit of Lent Madness in July!)

    • Sarah's Gravatar Sarah
      July 10, 2018 - 6:14 am | Permalink

      All of them were named “Ya’akov.” Both “Jacob” and “James” are anglicized versions of the Hebrew “Ya’akov.” There is no “j” sound in Hebrew.

  40. John of Concord's Gravatar John of Concord
    July 9, 2018 - 5:44 pm | Permalink

    But, of Course. Fisherman, early martyr, supportive of his brother, aka “Boanerges” in the tradition.

  41. Lois J Phillips's Gravatar Lois J Phillips
    July 9, 2018 - 6:21 pm | Permalink

    At St. Philip’s in the Hills, Tucson, there are stained glass windows depicting each of the apostles. James the Lesser is titled “James the Miner” and is shown with a pickaxe! A little problem in translation, since the windows, if I remember right, were done by Mexican artists!

  42. andrea's Gravatar andrea
    July 9, 2018 - 8:32 pm | Permalink

    I voted for James the Great, because of a long ago Spanish connection and he was a fisherman. Thanks to all for Lent Madness in July! Also, thanks and blessings to those at General Convention in Austin!

  43. Bill Bosies's Gravatar Bill Bosies
    July 9, 2018 - 8:43 pm | Permalink

    Having hiked to Compostela last September, I have to vote for James the Greater, whose name, I am told, comes from the fact that he was taller than James the Lesser.

  44. Ed TOTTEN's Gravatar Ed TOTTEN
    July 10, 2018 - 2:33 am | Permalink

    I was with James the less until you got to Egypt. Saw a film where James was very mean to non Christians in Egypt.

  45. Sarah's Gravatar Sarah
    July 10, 2018 - 6:06 am | Permalink

    I’m curious as to why the issue with the name “James” is mentioned in one bio but not the other. Neither would have been named “James.” In Hebrew, the name is “Ya’akov,” which comes down in English as “Jacob,” or totally transformed into “James.” (“James” is the English form of the Latin “Iacomus,” which is from the ancient Greek “Iakobos,” derived from the Hebrew.”

  46. JAN c BOHN's Gravatar JAN c BOHN
    July 10, 2018 - 9:09 am | Permalink

    Everything IS bigger in Texas. We moved there when our youngest was in 11th grade, were there for 2 years; she ended up with a 6’8″ Texan husband she met in high school.

Comments are closed.