Jesus called James and his younger brother John together to follow him. Both the brothers were then repairing the fishing net sitting in their boat on the lakeshore of Galilee. Mathew and Mark have described the scene in almost identical words.
Jesus was walking along the lakeshore. He went a little farther on and saw two other brothers, James and John, the sons of Zebedee. They were in their boat getting their nets ready. As soon as Jesus saw them, he called them, they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men and went with Jesus (Mk 1, 19-20; Mt 4, 21-22).
James and his younger brother John was the resident of Bethsaida village in the region of Galilee. Zebedee must have been a rich fisherman. That is why he was able to keep labourers. Like their father Zebedee the two brothers were also fishermen.
There is a very interesting incident which Mathew and Mark narrate with noticeable difference. In Mark, it is the two brothers who come to Jesus with a specific request. Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to Jesus. Teacher, they said, there is something we want you to do for us (Mk 10, 35). In Mathew it is their mother, wife of Zebedee who comes to Jesus with her sons and make the same request.
Then the wife of Zebedee came to Jesus with her two sons, bowed before him, and asked him a favour.
What do you want? Jesus asked her. She answered, Promise me that these two sons of mine will sit at your right and your left when you are King (Mt 20, 20-21).
The mother of James and John must have been close to Jesus. The evangelist Mathew mentions that the wife of Zebedee at the foot of the Cross (Mt 27, 56).
From these references some bible scholars conclude that the two disciples mother was Salome. She was mentioned among the women who followed Jesus. According to tradition Salome was the sister of Jesus mother, Mother Mary.
When Jesus was crucified Salome together with a few other women were standing after looking at Jesus being crucified. Mark writes, Some women were there, looking on from a distance. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of the younger James and of Joseph, and Salome. They had followed Jesus while he was in Galilee and had helped him. Many other women who had come to Jerusalem with him were there also (Mk 15, 40-41).
In the list of the apostles, James name comes always together with his brother. Perhaps when Jesus sent his disciples to villages in the groups of two, he must have sent James and John together.
Both the brothers followed Jesus very promptly when he called them to follow him. Their deep faith in Jesus puts them in a close friendship with Jesus together with Apostle Simon Peter. So Simon, James and John are the specially chosen three to witness Jesus Transfiguration. Six days later Jesus took with him Peter and the brothers James and John and led them up a high mountain where they were alone. As they looked on, a change came over Jesus: his face was shining like the sun, and his clothes were dazzling white (Mt 17, 1-2).
Similarly when Jesus goes to house of Jairus to restore the life his daughter, Jesus takes with him only Simon, James and John. (Mk 5, 37-38, 40-42).
Then Jesus went Gethsemane as his custom was for the last time to pray there with all his disciples. Jesus took only his special three disciples to be close to him. Mathew and Mark have recorded the scene, He took Peter, James and John with him. Distress and anguish came over him, and he said to them, The sorrow in my heart is so great that it almost crushes me. Stay here and keep watch (Mk 14, 33-34).
All these three events show that Jesus had a special predilection for the three: Simon, James and John.
Bible scholar Herbet Lockyer in his book All the Men of the Bible says, that Zebedee had a house in Jerusalem.
In the Passion narration after Jesus arrest John notes, Simon Peter and another disciples followed Jesus. That other disciple was well known to the High Priest, so he went with Jesus into the courtyard of the High Priests house, while Peter stayed outside by the gate. Then the other disciple went back out, spoke to the girl at the gate, and brought Peter inside (Jn 18, 15-16).
James became the first martyr among the 12 Apostles of Jesus. James embraced martyrdom within 15 years of his call and following Jesus. We read in the Acts of the Apostles, About this time King Herod began to persecute some members of the Church. He had James, the brother of John, put to death by the sword (Acts 12, 1-2).
Of the twelve Apostles only the martyrdom of James is specifically recorded in the New Testament. Thus as Jesus told his disciples, James shed his blood. Jesus has said to James and John, You will indeed drink the cup I must drink and be baptized in the way I must be baptized. But I do not have the right to choose who will sit at my right and my left. It is God who will give these places to those for whom he has prepared them(Mk 10, 39-40).
We know very little about James like most other disciples. Still James is a popular saint in the Christian Churches. Many Christians around the world take the name of James proclaiming his popularity. In the old city of Jerusalem there is an Armenian Cathedral dedicated to James from the twelfth century. According to traditional belief, James head is buried in location of the Cathedral.
From the Seventeenth century the Spanish people believe that before his martyrdom James visited Spain. The town of Compostella is a big pilgrimage place honouring James. Christian people from Europe and from the rest of the world visit Compostella as a world famous pilgrim place of St. James.