James the Greater vs. Nicodemus

After a day in which two ascetics battled it out in the wilderness, John Chrysostom emerged victorious over Margaret of Cortona 53% to 47% -- despite a late push by Margaret -- to advance to the Saintly Sixteen. He'll face the winner of Mellitus vs. Ephrem of Nisibis.

Today we return to the Biblical quadrant of the bracket as James the Greater faces Nicodemus. For those who followed the Supreme Executive Committee's shenanigans at last summer's Lent Madness Day at General Convention in Austin, Texas, you'll recall this included a play-in match between James the Great and James the Less. Perhaps not surprisingly, the Greater lived up to his name, leaving the Lesser to wallow in saintly ignominy.

Finally, in case you missed yesterday's edition of Monday Madness, for which you should do some serious penance, you can still catch it here.

James the Greater

James the GreaterJames the Greater is the portrait of an imperfect saint. He is often known as “the Greater” to distinguish him from the other Jameses in the Bible. The moniker denotes his prominence in the early tradition, not his superiority over other like-named disciples and saints Jameses.

James is the older brother of John. They are fishermen with their father Zebedee until Jesus calls them to follow him. 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’s 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. His all-too-human responses give us hope. He and his brother are called “Sons of Thunder,” presumably because of their impetuousness. (Later hagiographers, that is, those who write about the lives of the saints, say the brothers 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’s 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 one of the first martyrs 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’s defense before Herod was so effective that the guard who was charged with watching him was converted and the two were killed together.

Collect for James the Greater
O Gracious God, we remember before you today 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 the leaders of your Church that spirit of self-denying service by which alone they may have true authority 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


NicodemusCanonical material from which to pull a full biography of Nicodemus is limited. Nicodemus only appears in the Gospel of John and even then, only three times. The first time ol’ Nick appears in the gospel is when he comes to Jesus to ask him about his teachings. John describes Nicodemus as “a Pharisee…a leader of the Jews.” Nicodemus seems stumped by Jesus’ idea that one must be “born again” in order to inherit the kingdom of God. Through this exchange, which lasts for twenty-one verses, Jesus and Nicodemus exchange maxims, teachings, and the occasional sass before Jesus offers a more fulsome exploration of his work in the world. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” We aren’t told whether or not Nicodemus is persuaded.

Nicodemus appears again several chapters later when the Sanhedrin discuss how to arrest Jesus for blasphemy and disturbing the peace. Nicodemus chimes in, advocating that Jewish law does not permit judgment before one is given a trial. His defense of Jesus prompts some on the council to suggest that Nicodemus might be one of Jesus’ followers. Again, Nicodemus’ response is not recorded.

The final time Nicodemus appears in John is during our Lord’s crucifixion. After Jesus has died, Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus come to remove the body of Jesus, prepare it for burial, and place it in Joseph’s tomb. Nicodemus brings “a mixture of myrrh and aloes, weighing about a hundred pounds” and with Joseph, wraps the body of Jesus “with the spices in linen cloths” (John 19:39-40). Again, Nicodemus never makes a verbal confession of belief but what can be deduced from his actions, particularly his care and attention to the body of Jesus, is that Nicodemus was convinced of and converted by the message of Jesus. He uses his incredible wealth to bury Jesus in royal fashion. Although Nicodemus follows Jesus as a clandestine disciple, his life is changed by a chance encounter.

Collect for Nicodemus
Almighty God, you gave to your servant Nicodemus special gifts of grace to understand and teach the truth as it is in Christ Jesus: Grant that by this teaching we may know you, the one true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

-Marcus Halley

James the Greater vs. Nicodemus

  • Nicodemus (51%, 4,888 Votes)
  • James the Greater (49%, 4,641 Votes)

Total Voters: 9,529

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James the Greater: Guido Reni [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Nicodemus: Crijn Hendricksz Volmarijn [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons


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191 comments on “James the Greater vs. Nicodemus”

  1. As the Pharisees plot to collect Him
    Nicodemus speaks up to protect Him
    “Rule of law holds for all:
    Both the great and the small.”
    In this season, I vote to elect him.

    1. I was confounded that they would set James against Nicodemus. What a difficult choice!
      I went with James because James gave it all-his life. And in the midst of being executed, if his faith is grounded enough to convert the guard who was willing to lose his life, well you can't get much more in depth than this. Of course, we have no record of Nicodemus' later life, except for allowing Jesus to be laid in his tomb. It is likely that Nicodemus didn't understand Jesus any more than James did, or any of us would have.

  2. To alleviate some of the stress of today's match-up, we honor Big Jim and Nic with a song sung to the tune of "Summer Lovin'" from the musical "Grease". Enjoy, daddy-os, and vote!

    James: Summer fishin’ with Zebedee.
    Nicodemis: Summer scribin’. I’m Pharisee.
    James: I follow him with my bro John.
    Nicodemis: I spar with him. He talks on and on.
    Both: It’s so neat when Jesus I meet but oh oh the Judea nights.
    Apostles: Tell me more! Tell me more!
    Nicodemis: “Born again” is his scene.
    Apostles: Tell me more! Tell me more!
    Nicodemis: Just read John 3:16

    James: Raised Jairus’ daughter up from the dead.
    Nicodemis: His teaching fodder gets in my head.
    James: I’m “Son of Thunder”: My preaching style.
    Nicodemis: Their legal blunder – can’t judge him ‘til trial.
    Both: Nic shuts his trap and Jim takes a nap on the Lord’s Gethsemane night.
    Apostles: Tell me more! Tell me more!
    James: Look, his robe has turned white.
    Apostles: Tell me more! Tell me more!
    James: Want to sit to his right.

    Nicodemis: Things got darker. He’s crucified.
    James: I’m not proud that I ran to hide
    Nicodemis: So I brought aloe and myrrh…
    James: Herod makes me a martyr…
    Both: All our dreams, ripped at the seams, but, oh, those Jerusalem ni-ights!
    Apostles: Tell me more! Tell me more!

    1. Brilliant.... but I want to HEAR it sung other than in my head! Tim and Scott?

      1. I'm a fan, John, as I said yesterday and have a terrific crush on your syntax but don't agree and voted for James. I'd probably have been napping in the garden and hiding my face at the crucifixion. But you write great.

    2. This is hysterical! I look forward to reading your songs as much as I do voting for the saint.

    3. I couldn’t decide whether to give James or Nicodemus the higher voice. Fun way to start the day again, my friend.

    4. That’s who I’ve been picturing as well! “Jesus of Nazareth,” right? Loved that back in the day!

      1. You took the time and made the effort to state your thought. Thank you! Why oh why would you want to push a button that says absolutely NOTHING about your why's and wherefores?

    5. Love the song! You just need to get someone to actually be singing it to start my day!!

    6. This song is far better than the original, and only solidifies my vote for Big Nic today!

    7. GROAN. I am a music teacher. Now this will be in my head all day. 😉
      The votes are closer than any I've seen so far. I went with James because he was the "first martyr." Also, I probably would have fled the crucifixion as well.

      1. '@Robyn, actually I believe Stephen was the first martyr...see 2017's bracket with write-ups for Stephen, who made the Faithful 4 before losing to Franz Jaggerstatter.

        and agreed, fleeing the crucifixion seems like a smart move for self-preservation.

    8. I love a good filk! And I agree, we need audio files. 'cos I can't sing to save my life. Lol

    9. I sang it, but wavered on the tune at places so would also love to hear someone else sing it. So good. Lent Madness, the Musical . . . please.

  3. Nicodemus is my confident choice for the day. It he didn't even need a dog to win me over.

  4. Nicodemus gets my vote because I actually think he did NOT convert. I see him as a model of disagreeing with someone and still recognizing their humanity and treating them with dignity and respect. I think that's a model from which we could all learn.

      1. But isn't this the competition for who is the most saintly and if he wasn't even a christian in your eyes, then that means that he shouldn't even be on this list. This is why I voted James the Greater

        1. Well no one was a Christian for the first 200 years or so. I don't think that's a great way to divide people since the line between being a Jew who found Jesus' teaching compelling to a Jew who believed Jesus to be divine to finally a Christian is imperfect, porous, and historically murky. If one had to be a Christian then James wasn't one either. He was Jewish.

        2. In previous Lent Madnesses (is that even a word??), there have been a few "contestants" who were definitely not Christian: Sarah, the wife of Abraham (2017), Esther (2018), who bested Michael the Archangel in the Faithful Four. Would an angel be considered Christian?

    1. Wow! What a great statement. I haven't voted yet - was leaning toward James but now I am thinking it over. Thank you!

    2. Such talent can only come from the Holy Spirit. Seriously, I thoroughly enjoyed this and yes, sang it in true “Grease” style.

    3. St Celia, I hail your willingness to listen to and to aid another with who you may disagree, and whose goals you may or may not share. I don't know if it's gospel, but it is righteous -- in my book.

      "I do not share your belief, but I will defend unto death your right to express it." -- Voltaire

    4. I think that gets into the “Jesus was just a really nice guy” camp... which I don’t think is one of the options

  5. Voting for James who expected to be with Jesus when He came into His kingdom and had no idea what he was asking (the Cross) but ended as one of the earliest martyrs. I also attend St. James Episcopal Church, Millcreek, Delaware, so I have to vote for the homeboy.

  6. My dad was a non observant Jewish agnostic. He served as his unit’s Lutheran chaplain’s assistant during his service in the Vietnam conflict. He married my RC mom, raised us as RC, knew all the Vatican II Novus Ordo mass responses, and loved Christmas carols. Never converted, but I tried to get him to come on my Alpha Courses. For my dad, I voted for Nic.

  7. I'm going for Nicodemus. It took courage and conviction to stand up for Jesus in two of the three times we read about him. Also my sister is vicar at St James the Less so family loyalties put me against the james who vanquished him in the play-in match.

  8. Oh! it’s Nicodemus even without deliverance,
    ‘Cause he buried our Lord with the greatest reverence

    1. I walked part of the Camino de Santiago in Spain last Summer so it has to be James. He walked with me I’m sure.

  9. Having trouble with website on my computer this morning and can't see comments on my phone. 🙁
    I voted for James because I just didn't see anything in Nicodemus' write up that convinced me he should even be a saint. James certainly wasn't perfect but his very imperfections give me hope.

  10. Today I vote for James, who was chosen by Jesus as one of the three closest friends from among the disciples. His pride led him to request being with Jesus "when he came into his kingdom", and he actually got what he asked for, not in earthly glory but in martyrdom. By that time he apparently realized the true meaning of the Kingdom of God.

  11. Nicodemus all the way. He was played with such devotion by Laurence Olivier. I believe he played him well as his portrayal showed how he came to realize that he really was talking to the Son of God.

  12. The willingness to ask genuine, as opposed to argumentative, questions, the courage the speak up against both the angry and determined powers that were and to risk accusations and humiliation in the midst of his influential, status loving peer group (not to mention potential charges of heresy), and his grieving, tender faithfulness in providing a tomb for Jesus, gain my vote for Nicodemus.

  13. This was a tough choice. I ended up with Nicodemus because I like the quietness of his coming to Jesus. There is a sense of reflection and growth, and the tenderness with the burial is very moving. Nicodemus models for me that following Christ isn’t always about dramatic life changes but the slow working of the Holy Spirit transforming us over time, leaving us to make our witness in our daily context where it is surely most needed.

    1. I agree. Spiritual growth is a process. Not everyone has an epiphany. The stories of Nicodemus, although brief, show, thoughtfulness, courage, and compassion.

    2. Dirk Reinken, you make some very good points about quietness, reflection, and gradual transformation.
      Thank you; I'm voting for Nicodemus.

      1. All good thoughtful comments from Laura, Diana and Dirk supporting Nicodemus. He is probably the disciple (yes, to me he was one, no doubt) with whom I can identify the most strongly. The anecdotes show him in touch with Jesus throughout His ministry, from beginning to end. It was Nicodemus who elicited the famous 3:16 from Jesus' lips.

  14. Tough one, but David Creech's bio blurb of James the Greater had me at "imperfect saint." Plus, I've walked the Camino twice and the Camino is all about James. That said, James is the Great Sycophant, as well as a man apparently without the barest of manners. He's terribly flawed ... as are we. I was tempted to vote for Nico but his silence/unrecorded responses at key moments gave me pause. Better to be loud and proud (like James), than to hold back (like Nico) and wait to see which way the wind blows.

  15. Much as I love James, having served at St. James’s in Clayton, Georgia (I was the Vicar of Warwoman Road!), my vote today goes to Nicodemus. Whether or not he was able to get past the intellectual hurdles Jesus set for him, his actions bespoke a faith that God surely honors.

  16. James left all (dad, fishing, safe non-political life) and gave all ( his life) for Christ. Sure he was imperfect,self-seeking, a bit dense, cowardly, but he openly followed Jesus and did his best to stay with him. Nicodemus questioned, sought, stood for a fair trial, used his wealth to bury Jesus. He may have gained much by a secret conversion, but retained his place in society and didn't really lose a thing. What did it cost him but a hundred pounds of spice? James is greater for me.

    1. Thanks, Jane. Your comments swayed me back to James. So human, with faults and failings, but so stalwart - he gave his life to Christ at first calling and so grew in faith and fervor that he inspired another even as he faced death courageously.

  17. Since my son is a James had to go with this one in voting. So far I'm 1 for 4 in my picks. And I am loving the musical interludes.

  18. I voted for James because, when Jesus called him to follow him, he left everything for Jesus not knowing where it would lead.

    1. Come to think of it, maybe we should have a pilgrimage trail named for each of the apostles. Hmm... which one would I walk?