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I Am James, Brother of Jesus

I am the second son of Mary.

 

My father, Joseph, tried to raise me to love wood. He could look at a piece of wood and feel its value, its strength, its gift. I would nod, but not see. Wood made us money. That’s what I could see. I saw no other value.

Jesus tried to convince me to see wood differently. “See this tree. Don’t you wonder why it leans so far to the left?”

I would look, so he would stop asking me, and shrug. “Must have been some wind storm.”

He would rub his hand over the bark. “But it stood the winds, didn’t it, James? It held strong and didn’t fall.” He studied me with those piercing eyes, like he was telling me a deeper message.

I turned away. I didn’t like to be reminded that I had trouble making decisions. I must know all the options before I could decide to do anything. That kept me from acting. I would frustrate Dad. He would say, “Take the piece of wood and do something with it. Don’t just stare at it!”

My brother Jude laughed. “Just sell the wood like that, James…by the time you figure what to make from it, you’ll be dead anyway.”

Jude could jump into things with everything—and still be safe. I must know I was safe before I got there.

Jesus always pricked my heart. He was so good. When us boys would get into mischief, He would hinder any fun. He was like my second conscience! Only it was worse than the one inside my head, because it would never let me do anything wrong. He always did what was true. He was so convicting.

I hated Him!

Then there was family…They judged our family by a different standard than everyone else. We all had to be good, because Jesus was good.

Do you know what it’s like to follow in the footsteps of a perfect son!

When Jesus was twelve, Dad and Mom couldn’t find Jesus after we had traveled for a day. We had to leave the caravan, and return to the temple. We searched everywhere for him.

Mom was frantic.

Jesus was finally in trouble.

I could hardly wait for Him to be punished.

When we found Him, He was sitting with the temple teachers. They were questioning Him about what He understood about the Law.

Mom asked, “Son, why have you treated us this way?”

“Don’t you know that I must be about My Father’s business?”

I looked at Dad. This had nothing to do with being a carpenter. What was He talking about?

Dad rested his hand on Jesus’s shoulder and squeezed.

Why didn’t Dad reprove Jesus? What business of His Father’s? That was my first inkling that truth was being withheld from me.

I remember in synagogue class, the boy behind me, Simon, whispered, “Your mother’s a ____”

I turned to face him. He couldn’t be calling my mother that. “What?”

Just then the Rabbi hit me on the head with his stick.

I looked up startled, turned around in my seat, and bent over my scroll to read. But Simon’s words stayed in my head all morning. When class was over, I waited for him. I would defend my mother’s honor. My voice shook, “What did you call my mother?”

He repeated the name.

I didn’t hesitate, but punched him in his fat, pudgy gut.

He grunted, hunching over. But when he stood again, he stepped in swinging.

I was ready. I had never fought before, but I would fight for my mom.

I don’t remember the punches. I only remembered the name. No one would defile my mother’s character.

The Rabbi separated us, rebuked me, and sent me home.

I walked home, battered, and beaten, but the battle wasn’t over.

As I kicked a stone down the lane towards home, I wondered how I would explain this to my dad.

Dad met me. He didn’t say a word, just laid his hand on my shoulder and squeezed.

I didn’t cried when I was punching. I didn’t cried when the Rabbi rebuked me. But now I could feel the tears filling my eyes and running down my face.

My dad bent in front of me and put both hands on my shoulders.

It was then that I felt the pain from the dishonor, from the words that were said. I couldn’t look into his eyes. I bowed my head and sobbed.

He grabbed me and crushed me against his chest. He didn’t speak. He just held me.

When I had finished crying, he held me at arms’ length. “Did they call your mother a name?”

My surprise couldn’t be greater. “How’d you know?”

My dad smiled, a sad, knowing smile. “They cannot believe.”

I didn’t understand his answer. I wanted to ask “Who? Believe what?” But the pain in my father’s eyes kept me from speaking.

My father nodded. “You did what was right. You stood for truth. Your mother did not sin. But…”

My head fell to my chest. Father wouldn’t tell me that I shouldn’t fight for my mother’s honor, would he?

My father waited until I looked him in the face again. “They do not believe the truth. You must know the truth and fight for it. But sometimes fighting means waiting and letting God show them.”

“How do I know when to wait and when to fight?”

Father squeezed my shoulders and sighed. “Know the truth, first. Then God will show you.”

My father spoke in riddles. What truth?

My father stood and walked to his workshop.

I walked beside him. What did he mean?

When we reached his workshop, he pointed to the house. “Have your mother see to your eye. You’ll have a black one for sure. But I’m glad you’re willing to fight.” He tapped my shoulder before entering his shop.

I walked slowly to the house. I didn’t relish what my mom would say.

I stood in the doorway for a time, letting my eyes adjust to the dark interior.

When my mother saw me, she hurried to me, wrapping her comforting arms around me. “Oh, my Son…” She shook her head and treated my wounds.

Now, I could feel them. The pounding of my head told me that I would feel them for a long time. I closed my eyes tightly, feeling my tears pool as I tried to keep them from falling.

When she finished, she sat beside me and put her hand on my knee. That was probably the only place that didn’t pound and throb.

She didn’t reprimand. She seemed to know why I had fought, which made me confused. Was it true? The question entered, then left as soon as it came.

She just said, “They don’t believe.”

That’s what Father had said. Who? Believe what? I wanted to ask, but couldn’t. How would I know the truth?

When my brothers came home from the workshop, Jude admired my puffy face. “James, what a shiner!”

Joseph nodded, knowingly. “Who’d you fight?”

The razzing continued through dinner. But the truth stayed hidden.

Days later when Joseph and I were cleaning out the stable, Joseph said, “About that fight…”

I stopped mid-stride, with a shovel full of droppings. “Yea?”

“What he said was true.”

I couldn’t believe my own brother would admit our mother was capable of such a sin. I dropped my shovel’s load. “What?”

Joseph nodded. “Mom was with child before Dad married her.” He paused, “But it’s not what you think.”

I heard no more. I threw the shovel at his feet and ran beyond the village to the hills. Leaning against a boulder, I hung my head between my knees, gasping for breath.

Over the few days since the fight, I had time to consider my parents’ words. Doubts had filled my head and clouded my heart.

Comments at family reunions came back. I didn’t understand then, but now they made sense. Jabs at Father; slams at Mother. My father would just stand, clenching his hands into fists. He worked the muscles of his jaw, a sure sign that he was holding his temper. He never defended Mom. It was true!

I saw Jesus in a different way. He divided my folks and the rest of the family. By His goodness, He showed the sin of His parents even more.

I hated Him!

Years later, all of us stood around my father’s bed. Fever had destroyed his body, leaving it wasted. His grip, so strong and true on a piece of wood, was weak as he held my hand.

I was so lost in my thoughts; I almost didn’t hear him.

“The angel of the Lord came to me.” He paused and swallowed.

I gave him a drink from the dipper beside his bed.

He settled against his cushion. “The angel told me of a child given to us by the Holy Spirit. We would have a son, who would save our people. I was not to touch Mary before He was delivered. The son would be God-man.” The words taxed him.

I squeezed his shoulder, much like he did for me when I needed reassurance. “Rest, Father.”

He shook his head. “The words of the angel came true. Mary, your mother, was with child, not by me nor any other man. We were cast out by family and community. No one believed.”

He looked at Jesus and nodded. “When it came time for you to be delivered, we went to Bethlehem to be taxed. No family allowed us to travel with them. We left alone. We had little money, for no one would give me work. Mary was in pain. I remember my helplessness. We stopped many times along the way. Travelers passed us, but we moved too slowly for any to join us.

“When we arrived, the city was crowded. Everything was expensive. We ended up sleeping on the floor of a family who knew Zaccarias. Their livestock lived beneath them, as was the custom. They could only give us floor space.

“That night Jesus was born.” Joseph smiled and touched Jesus’s hand.

Mom laid her hand on Dad’s shoulder and continued the story. “Jesus was born. Shepherds came. Angels told them to follow the star to where the Child was born.”

 “The shepherds gave us several lambs. We were grateful. Our resources were low. It was enough to pay the taxes and start again.

“Even when we went to the temple, I could give only a poor man’s sacrifice for His birth. What a poor provider I was.”

Mary shook her head. “Simeon was glad to pay for the second dove.”

Dad continued the story, “One day, a caravan came through the dirty streets of the city. I watched from my doorway, wondering if they were lost. No one of such wealth came down our street. They stopped at our door. Imagine my surprise, when they bowed before me on the dirty streets of Bethlehem!”

“They asked to see the King. They knelt on the dirt floor, and praised God for bringing salvation to the world.” Dad rested his head on the cushions for a time before he could continue. “They gave gifts: gold, frankincense and myrrh. God provided for His Son.

“You can imagine the neighbors and family’s response! They watched from their doorways and windows. When our guests left, they were at our doorstep asking for what they had brought!

“That night in a dream, God told me to flee to Egypt to protect His Child. We left during the night, not even telling family. They would not understand. The gifts from the wise men provided for us as we traveled and lived in Egypt.

“After we left, Herod commanded all the children two years and younger to be killed. God protected His Son. Our family and friends’ children were not.

“When another dream told me it was safe to return, we moved to Nazareth.

“News followed us. Whispers and rumors told of our past. Family resented that we had escaped the king’s verdict. People do not forgive very well. They hold grievances. They believe untruths. They caused you harm.” He paused, looking at all the boys. He rested them on Mom. His voice broke, “I could not protect you.”

I offered him a drink.

He took a sip, and rested.

He had told me to wait for the truth. This was the truth.

But I could not accept it. I would not believe.

My father continued. “They would not believe. You boys weren’t old enough to understand. We waited to share the truth until you could understand. We wanted Jesus to grow like a normal child. How can anyone understand that God became man and lives with us?” He closed his eyes.

His words from long ago came to my mind. “Know the truth and fight for it. Know when to wait and when to fight.” I wasn’t ready for the truth. I did not want to believe. It was easier to believe the untruth.

My father hugged each one of us. He whispered to me, “Know the truth. Fight for it.”

I nodded, but did not want to accept it. If I accepted the truth, I must rid my heart of its anger at Jesus.

My dad died that night. But the truth of his words burned into my heart to make me miserable. I fought the truth and fought Jesus.

Jesus worked in the workshop day after day with me. I don’t know how He could stand me. I was not nice. Somedays I couldn’t even stay. I’d throw down the wood and stomp out of the shop. Conviction was strong on my heart, reminding me of the truth.

When Jesus turned thirty, He approached my mother. “I must be about My Father’s business.”

My mother nodded, tears forming in her eyes. She hugged him tightly and watched him leave.

I watched him leave, but I held no tears in my eyes.

When a distant cousin was marrying, we went to celebrate. We feasted well the first day, but as the day finished, the wine ran out. Mom whispered to Jesus, “They have no more wine.”

Jesus said, “My hour has not yet come.”

I thought of Dad’s words. Sometimes you fight, sometimes you wait. Guess Jesus must wait, too. It gave me satisfaction, even though I did not understand His words.

Mom slipped away and spoke to the servants. She pointed to Jesus.

They nodded.

I thought nothing about it until Jesus spoke to them.

They filled waterpots from the well, drew a pitcher and took it to the headwaiter.

I later drank of the water turned to wine. It was good, no, very good. I knew what had happened. But my heart did not want to believe. (John 2:12)

Jesus once spoke in the synagogue in Nazareth. “No prophet is welcome in his hometown. I tell you in truth, in Elijah’s days, many widows in Israel went without, during a great famine. Yet Elijah wasn’t sent to any of them, but to a widow in Sidon. In Elisha’s time, many Hebrew lepers were not cleansed, except Naaman the Syrian.”

He spoke against me.

I clenched my fists. I didn’t welcome His truth.

The synagogue’s religious leaders were also angry. They drove Him from the city, pushing Him toward a cliff to His death. I was with them. I wanted to be one who pushed Him.

He escaped.

I don’t know how.

I kept my distance from Jesus. I disdained His truth that pierced me. I resented His freedom to do what He wanted.

I did not love wood, like my Dad did. I was not a good carpenter, no matter how hard I tried. It was a job.

Joseph had been like Dad, loving the wood into something useful, but he had died, shortly after Dad did.

I supported Mom.

I had married by this time and I had a family of my own. I moved from my boyhood home, escaping the untrue gossip. We lived in Jerusalem where no one knew me. I could work without the past. But my hatred for Jesus and truth followed me. I wanted nothing more from Him (I Cor. 9:5).

I thrived with the synagogue’s rules and regulations. I could strive to be good without the conviction of Jesus.

I saw Jesus one more time before His death. He was walking the beach of Galilee by Himself, a rare thing. We nodded to each other.

He hugged and kissed me.

I stood stiff, unyielding to His touch. “You are here for the Feast of Booths?”

He nodded.

Mom wanted me to make sure that He came home. “Come to Judea. Your disciples may see Your works. Show Yourself to the world.”

The Jewish leaders in Judea were seeking to kill Him. I did not care.

He squeezed my shoulder, as Dad would have done. “My time is not yet here. But this is your time, James. You do not need to wait anymore.”

Even as He encouraged me to believe, I shrank from His touch and spewed my hatred. “I am hated by all, because of you.”

He shook his head. “The world doesn’t hate you, but it hates Me because I show them truth and their deeds are evil. Go to the feast: I won’t go. My time has not yet come.” (John 7:1-9)

I left him then. Even if He said that the world only hated Him, I knew my poor treatment was because of Him.

I saw Him that day on the cross. I came for Mother.

She would not leave Him.

I looked at Him. My brother’s face was unrecognizable. It was streaked with blood from a crown of three-inch thorns pushed into His head. His beard was ripped off. Blood dripped from His chin unnoticed. He was stripped of his clothes, except a loincloth. He held himself away from the cross. I couldn’t see the reason until I saw His back—what was left of it. The beating they gave Him left no flesh.

Each breath pained Him. He lifted his body against the nails of his hands to raise himself up. He would take a breath and then fall against the weight of the nails in his feet.

I took a deep breath, as if I could not breathe. I turned away, sickened. “Let’s go, Mom. I’ll take you home.”

She shook her head, her face streaked with tears. She knelt where she was.

I couldn’t persuade her.

John, one of Jesus’s disciples, said he’d stay with her.

I left. I returned to my workshop. I couldn’t concentrate. My father’s words rang in my mind, “They did not believe.” I could still see his sadness, his pain.

I dropped the wood that I carved. It clattered to the earthen floor. I could not see it. It had grown dark, while my thoughts had kept me busy.

No light came through the workshop window. It was noon. I stumbled to the doorway, kicking the wood as I went.

The sky had grown as black as night. A storm poured its vengeance. The heavens seemed to cry.

On that dark day when Jesus died, my father’s words pierced my heart, “You did what was right. You stood for truth.” My father had been proud when I had fought for my mother’s honor, even though he couldn’t explain the truth at the time. I had fought for truth.

My father lived truth. He fought his battle silently, waiting, like he had told me. Waiting, because they would not believe.

My father would have been proud of Jesus. Jesus had died for truth. He was truth.

I saw Jesus perform miracles. I heard him speak. His death exposed my actions. I would have saddened my father because I “would not believe.”

Later, I heard about Christ’s resurrection. I fell to my knees repenting for not believing His Son He had sent. I had lost time in knowing Him.

When the disciples met in the upper room after Jesus ascended, I was there. I would not be kept from the truth again. I would wait for it. I would fight for it, just as my Dad had told me. But first, I would know truth.

Time has come and gone. I do believe. In fact, I stood at the Jerusalem Council proclaiming that Gentile Christians shouldn’t obey Jewish laws.

I had learned my father lesson, “Know the truth and fight for it. But sometimes fighting means waiting and letting God show them.”

Much of my fighting is spent on my knees before God, fighting for my people’s hearts hardened like mine who refused to believe; fighting for my government who torture God’s people, scattering them to the wind before their persecution; fighting for the truth amidst the added laws of our religious leaders. I fought on my knees to hold onto the God Who I had for years rejected.

My brother and my God had lived to show me how, and had died to give me life. I believe and I would fight for the truth.

***

James, the brother of Jesus, spent so much time in prayer that his knees ‘were like those of a camel.’ The book that bears his name is believed to have been written by him.

Josephus, the Jewish historian, reported that Jewish leaders stoned James to death. Another source said he was thrown from the top of the temple and beaten to death with a club.

Whichever death he suffered, he died, believing and fighting. Now he no longer waits to see his God and his Savior again. He lives to know Him.

 



Author of Biblical fiction, married to my best friend, and challenged by eight sons’ growing pains as I write about what matters.

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