A Scoffer of Jesus.
We are left to conjecture what the brothers and sisters of Jesus thought when he went down to the Jordan to meet the Baptist. We know that "Mary kept all these sayings, pondering them in her heart" (Luke 2: 19). Mary had seen the dawning Messianic consciousness when Jesus was only twelve (Luke 2:49). The reply of Jesus to his mother's hint about the wine at the wedding of Cana implies that Jesus and his mother had talked over his Messianic task (John 2:4). But the brothers accompanied Jesus, his mother, and the small band of six disciples to Capernaum after the miracle at Cana, and the group remained together for some days (John 2:12). They may have met at Nazareth after the wedding at Cana and thence proceeded to Capernaum.
It is possible that the brothers, not being at Cana, and not being in the secret between Jesus and Mary, may not have grasped the significance of the events connected with the baptism of Jesus and his entrance upon his Messianic career. The presence of the band of "disciples" (learners at the feet of the new Rabbi) argues that the brothers must have known something about the wonderful claims of Jesus their brother.
At any rate, it is pleasant to see them all here together in Capernaum in fellowship and friendliness, "a proof of the closeness of the ties uniting our Lord and them. No shadow of estrangement had as yet fallen upon their relations." Godet (on Luke 2: 12) thinks that Mary and the brothers came on to Capernaum eager for more miracles like the one at Cana, and may have been keenly disappointed because Jesus created none. This is possible, but hardly as probable as the idea, that it is a friendly group in frank fellowship in Capernaum.
We are left in the dark as to the real attitude of the brothers of Jesus when he begins his great work. They may have looked upon him as a sort of irregular rabbi or a mild enthusiast carried away by the new teaching of John the Baptist. There would be natural pride in his work, while it succeeded, without necessary belief in his claims. Certainly Mary must have had at first the utmost faith, tremulous with expectation, in the Messiahship of Jesus. Perhaps the brothers were at first only mildly interested or even sceptical of the qualifications of one out of their own family circle. The brothers may not have been free from the jealousy sometimes seen in home life.
It was not long before hostility toward Jesus sprang up in Nazareth itself, according to the vivid narrative in Luke 4: 16-31, probably soon after the return of Jesus from Judaea and Samaria to Galilee, certainly after the miracle at Capernaum (Luke 4:23), as told in John 4:46-54. Probably James shared with the rest the first wonder at the words of grace (Luke 4: 22) and the quick flash of wrath as the pride of the town was pricked (4: 28). Henceforth in Nazareth, despite his growing fame elsewhere, Jesus was persona non grata. His brothers felt this atmosphere of hostility very keenly.
The curtain falls on the family life in Nazareth till toward the close of the Galilean ministry, after the second general tour of Galilee by Jesus (Luke 8: 1-3). The tremendous work of Jesus had created a wonderful impression. The multitudes in amazement asked if Jesus were not the son of David, the Messiah (Matt. 12 : 23). The Pharisees in anger and chagrin replied that he was in league with Beelzebub (12:24). The excitement was intense. Jesus would sometimes withdraw to the deserts and pray (Luke 5: 16). Sometimes Jesus and the crowds would not eat (Mark 3:20). News of all this came to "his friends" (Mark 3: 21), who are explained in Mark 3:31 as "his mother and his brothers." Probably already vague rumors were afloat that Jesus was out of his head. Once people said of Jesus that he was "a gluttonous man, and a winebibber" (Luke 7: 34), but now he is so queer!
In the inner circle at Nazareth Mary had watched and heard it all. What could it mean? Perhaps, Mary argued, his reason has been temporarily dethroned by the strain and the excitement. She will go and bring him home, where he can have quiet and rest. It was easier for the brothers to see it so, since they had not accepted him as Messiah. Perhaps one may have said, "I told you so." At any rate, "they went to lay hold on him: for they said, He is beside himself." (Mark 3:2i).
Jesus is in a crowded house in Galilee near the Lake when they come (Mark 3:19) and readily understands why they have come when he is told that his mother and brothers are standing without and wish to speak with him (Mark 3:31; Matt. 12:46; Luke 8: 10f.). It is a tragedy of life, pathetic beyond words. The ecclesiastics have long ago made issue with him and are now violently assailing him. Many of the people are following the lead of the Pharisees. And now his own mother and brothers have come and wish to take him home so as to avoid the scandal and shame of his further public ministry. The Pharisees say he has a demon and is in league with the devil. The "charitable" construction therefore is that he is a lunatic. But Jesus does not go out to meet his own mother and brothers (James among them). He had come to know one of the bitterest of human sorrows, a pang to the very heart, to be misunderstood "among his own kin, and in his own house." (Mark 6:4).
It is not surprising, therefore, that Jesus found consolation in the fact that many did understand him. "And looking round on them which sat round about him," when the message came, "he stretched forth his hand towards his disciples," and said: "Behold my mother and my brethren! For whosoever shall do the will of my Father which is in heaven, he is my brother, and sister, and mother." Mother and brothers had failed in the crisis to comprehend Jesus and even his "sisters" (note "and sister"). But the Father in heaven had not veiled his face from Jesus. It is not clear that James heard this pathetic rebuke from Jesus, as he may have remained standing outside the house. Many have come into spiritual fellowship with Jesus who thus have the peculiar consolation of taking the place made empty in his heart for the time by mother and sister and brother. With Mary it was a temporary eclipse and she was loyal at the end as she stood by the cross.
Jesus made another and a last visit to Nazareth (Matt. 13:54-58; Mark 6:1-6). There was a revival of interest in him which crystallized into hard scepticism, so that Jesus did not many mighty works there, and even "marvelled because of their unbelief." He was a "prophet without honor" in Nazareth as he left for the last time the city of his childhood and youth.
The tide at last turned against Jesus in Capernaum (John 6: 22-71) and in Galilee generally. For six months he remains away save for a brief visit that met with the united hostility of Pharisee and Sadducee (Matt. 15:39 to 16:4; Mark 8:10-13). The brothers of Jesus meanwhile seem to grow in this spirit of dislike toward the elder brother. Six months before the death of Jesus they ridicule him for his being a virtual refugee from Galilee and for his secretive methods, quite inconsistent with his claims of Messiahship (John 7 : 2-5). James as the oldest of the brothers was probably the spokesman on this occasion. The "advice" was of an extremely irritating nature, with the implication that Jesus was seeking to gain credit "in public" ("openly,") while doing his work "in secret" ("in a hidden" place).
It is not surprising therefore that Jesus did precisely the opposite, for he went up to Jerusalem, "not publicly, but as it were in secret" (John 7:1c). John explains the motive of the brothers (4:5), "for even his brethren did not believe on him." They have reached the point when they are willing to attack Jesus. They belonged to the world and did not understand Jesus (John 7 : 6f.) It is not necessary to say that James was actually a Pharisee, still less an Essene. The use made of his name by the Judaizers in the controversy with Paul does not prove this to be true (Gal. 2: 12). But certainly he was now in general sympathy with the hostile attitude of the ecclesiastics from Jerusalem (both Pharisee and Sadducee).
The cup that Jesus must drink at Jerusalem has this added bitterness in it. It is not particularly surprising, when all things are considered, that at his death Jesus commended his mother to John the Beloved Disciple rather than to any of his brothers or sisters. They were all completely out of sympathy with him and with her. At such an hour sympathy counted for far more than blood without it. Besides, the brothers may not have been in Jerusalem at this time, for they still lived in Nazareth. It is possible, of course, that James may have been at the Passover, which was so generally attended by the Jews. Certainly he was at Pentecost later (Acts 1: 14).
We do not know whether Jesus appeared to James in Jerusalem or in Galilee (1 Cor. 15:7), though Paul mentions it after the appearance to the more than five hundred, which was in Galilee. Mary needed immediate attention, and was probably taken away from the cross at once by John "to his own home" probably the Jerusalem home of his mother, certainly not Galilee now. John then came back to the cross and saw the piercing of the side of Jesus by the Roman soldier (John 19:35). But at any rate, it is clear that Jesus died upon the cross with James and all his brothers and sisters utterly out of touch with him. "Doubtless their very intimacy with our Lord blinded them to his real greatness."
From Practical and Social Aspects of Christianity - The Wisdom of James by A.T. Robertson, Professor of New Testament Interpretation, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, Ky. Lightly updated to the language of the 21st century by D. N. Pham. (c) 2012. The update is not complete.
Insights of the past for the present
Wisdom of James - A.T. Robertson
ON THE BOOK SHELF
May your insights be worthy.