As we’ve been going through the Gospel of John in our Sunday morning study group, there have been several moments of speculation. What the woman at the well was thinking, what kind of character she exhibited while taking to Jesus, etc. There were also conjectures on Nicodemus and the lame man made whole. There have even been some conversation about John’s comment in 7:5 where he observes that not even Jesus’ brothers believed in him. We talked about what they did believe compared to what they didn’t. We compared their worldly understanding of their brother’s mission compared to the spiritual nature which was misunderstood by many. But there was a stark omission in the conversation. What was it about the relationship between Jesus, his mother and brothers that caused a void in belief?
Surely there must have been a time when Mary took her other sons aside and explained to them her calling and “method” of conception? Certainly there had to have been numerous conversations about their brothers mission and purpose. Did they believe what their mother said about their older brother? Were they all, at one time, comfortable with the idea of their brother being God’s chosen one? Did their confusion begin once his mission unfolded finding themselves being swept up in the nationalistic messiah concept and abandoning the spiritual message of the Kingdom of God? Was there a time when Mary took her other sons aside in an effort to slap some sense into them regarding what they knew and what they were witnessing?
The scripture tells us there were times when Jesus’ mother and brothers all appeared confused and bewildered by the actions of the Messiah. Mark tells us that once Jesus and his disciples returned “home” the crowds were overwhelming to the point they could not even enjoy a meal together. Hearing of this and the throngs which were clamoring around their son and brother, Jesus’ family went to “take custody of him” for they believed he had “lost his senses.”(Mark 3:21) ** What?! Are we to understand this correctly? Not only did is brothers not believe in him, they apparently thought he’d lost the handle off his pail – As did his mother. Had the Christ become an embarrassment to his family?
Later in that same chapter Mark tells us that as Jesus was teaching and his mother and brothers came asking for him. Could it be to take him away and protect him from himself? Not sure, but it’s in that context where we see Jesus make a classic statement of family priorities. “Whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother .”(3:35) Much has been said about that observation by Jesus but it seems clear, when coupled with the earlier verse, that Jesus was marking a clear distinction between those who knew and were committed to his mission and those who were not.
Of course there’s more to the story. We know that after the resurrection Luke tells us in Acts that Mary and his brothers (no mention of his sisters) were together with the other disciples “devoting themselves to prayer.” (1:14) We also know that James becomes a staunch pillar in the NT church as well as authoring the epistle that carries his name. So there must have been some reconciliation of their understanding of who Jesus was and his mission. Nevertheless, that does not excuse us from seeing the previous texts clearly.
It may not be you, but there are many who scuffle with their understanding of the Christ. At one time or another we may all struggle to come to terms with who he is and his mission. There may or may not be comfort in knowing his own family seemed to have had similar issues. However, knowing this should help us put into perspective how much difficulty the Jewish leadership and the crowds in general had reconciling their idea of an intended Messiah and how the Messiah actually presented himself.
** “His own people” could have been others in his home town but that seems unlikely. It could have been other disciples, but the phrase does not seem to indicate that. John could have easily referred to them that way if that was the case. According to Robertson’s Word Pictures, the phrase means “those from the side of him” most likely referring to his family. As we see later in the chapter. In the second half of the verse the “they” refers back to its nearest antecedent which is “his own people” not some other group of people.