As the story goes, when Mary was visited by an angel who told her she would conceive and give birth to great man who she would call Jesus, though she had never known a man, she was thoughtful, questioning and even troubled, but said she was willing. (Luke 1:26-35)
When she visited her cousin, Elizabeth, at the angel’s direction, and what the angel said was corroborated, Mary was thankful and happy. (Luke 1:39-47) She believed what the angel told her and gave thanks to God, but that is a mother’s response. Right? Siblings and strangers are a different matter.
On the subject of claims about Jesus, skepticism has always existed. We even find it in the narratives of the four Gospels, themselves. The Bible is candid that way.
The Pharisees and Sadducees (the Jewish religious leaders of the day) largely did not believe the claims of Jesus. Most of the Romans certainly didn’t believe them. Even among the common people, we get the sense that some people wanted to believe Jesus, but their good will toward him changed over the span of his public life.
Jesus was not initially well-received in his hometown, Nazareth. When he read from the Isaiah scroll in the synagogue and announced that the words he read were fulfilled that day in their hearing, they didn’t take kindly to him. (Luke 4:14-21) They said, “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” (Lk. 4:22), and they took offense at his assertions. (Mk. 6:3)
It wasn’t like Jesus tried to soften his approach. We might even say that Jesus provoked their skepticism. (Lk. 4:22-27) They changed from curiosity tinged with skepticism to anger as he presumed their rejection of him. (Lk 4:28) They became so angry, they drove him out of town and up to the brow of a hill where they threatened to throw him off a cliff. (Lk. 4:29)
During another encounter with a crowd in the wider area of Galilee, Jesus caused such a stir by the things he was saying that the people accused him of “being out of his mind”. The religious leaders even accused him of blasphemy.
When his family heard what people were saying, they went to “seize him”. (Mk. 3:20-21) His mother and brothers would not even enter in the house where he was talking to the crowd. They stood outside calling to him, but Jesus refused to respond. (Mk. 3:31-35)
Jesus caused such a stir in Galilee that the Jewish leaders sought to kill him (Jn. 7:1) claiming that Jesus was “leading people astray” (Jn. 7:12). In the midst of the stir that Jesus was causing in Galilee (his home region), we learn definitively that “not even his brothers believed in him”. (Jn. 7:5)
His brothers did not merely not believe in him. The challenged him to leave Galilee and go to Judea to make his claims and prove himself there. (Jn. 7:3) It wasn’t that they believed him; they were provoking him, likely hoping he would stop the nonsense: “No one who wants to become a public figure acts in secret. Since you are doing these things, show yourself to the world.” (Jn. 7:4)
His brothers certainly knew the angry reception Jesus was getting in Galilee would be nothing like the wrath he would experience in Judea where the High Priest and Sanhedrin were headquartered.
After the initial controversial stir that Jesus made in the area in which he grew up, we don’t hear much about the family of Jesus, as Jesus spread out to other areas. They are largely absent from the narrative after that. The highly skeptical religious leaders never softened up to what Jesus was saying, but crowds of more common people did begin to believe him.
The height of his popularity among the crowds was, perhaps, the day he entered Jerusalem on a donkey on what we have come to call Palm Sunday. We get the sense that the crowd believed this was the beginning of their long awaited dream of taking back control from the Roman occupation and the climactic overthrow of Roman rule. It was actually a long awaited beginning of a different sort.
The arrest of Jesus on charges of blasphemy, and his silence in the face of those charges led to a dramatic turn in the perception of the crowd. By the time he was arrested in the garden and hauled before the Sanhedrin (the religious council) and then before Pontius Pilate (the Roman governor), the tide of popular opinion had turned against Jesus.
He wasn’t who they thought he was.
The Sanhedrin had Jesus arrested, looking for evidence to put him to death. (Mk. 14:55) Jesus was silent until the high priest asked him, “Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?” (Mk. 14:61) When Jesus said, “I am” (Mk. 14:62), they had the evidence they wanted. They accused him of blasphemy and condemned him to death. (Mk. 14:63-65)
The religious council turned him over to Pilate for sentencing. (Mk. 15;1) The charge of blasphemy meant nothing to the Roman governor who believed the Sanhedrin was acting out of self-interest and concern for their own religious influence. (Mk. 15:2-10) Yet, the crowd was stirred up against Jesus, and they demanded that he be crucified. (Mk. 15:11-15) The rest is history.
Up to this point, the little we know about the brothers of Jesus is that they didn’t believe in him. The last we hear of them, when his family came to call him out of the home where he was causing a stir, Jesus seemed to have turned his back on them. When Jesus was told his family was there calling to him to come out, Jesus said,
“[W]hoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother”. (Mk. 3:32-35)
This is the backdrop for some key observations about the family of Jesus, and particularly his brother, James, that speak to the authenticity Jesus and of the Gospel narrative.Continue reading “How James Speaks to the Authenticity of His Brother, Jesus”