Family. You want them to be there for you. But sometimes, the rivalry between siblings gets intense. Think back to the story of Jacob and Esau, or for that matter, Joseph and his brothers. You may have had it bad growing up, but I’m guessing no one ever sold you into slavery and pretended you had been killed by wild animals.
We would like to think that if we could all just learn to do and say the right things, we could eliminate sibling rivalry and family conflict. It’s a nice idea. And I do believe there are things we can do to get better at relationships. But it’s worth remembering that not even Jesus himself had an ideal family life.
After all, it must have been hard to maintain a peaceful coexistence when one son insisted that he had come down from heaven.
The Jewish Festival of Tabernacles was near. Jesus’ brothers were planning to make the pilgrimage from Galilee to Jerusalem, as expected. But Jesus, apparently, had told them he wasn’t going. In response, they urged:
Leave Galilee. Go to Judea so that your disciples can see the amazing works that you do. Those who want to be known publicly don’t do things secretly. Since you can do these things, show yourself to the world. (John 7:3-4, CEB)
They obviously knew of Jesus’ miracles. At the very least, they would have known firsthand of his changing water into wine at the wedding in Cana, and may have seen him do other signs.
And their logic makes good sense. One might even imagine the disciples thinking the same thing. He had done signs in Jerusalem before, and the festival was a perfect opportunity to expand the ministry. Galilee wasn’t the best place to get the public exposure a Messiah or prophet needed.
John tells us directly, however, that Jesus’ brothers didn’t believe in him (vs. 5). Perhaps they were mocking him. Perhaps they even wished harm on him, if they knew of and took seriously Jesus’ concern about the murderous designs of the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem. That would put them in the same company as Joseph’s older brothers from centuries before.
But John isn’t giving us a case study in family dynamics. He’s telling us the story of the Word made flesh, of light coming to darkness. No one fully grasped the reality of who Jesus was, but some believed and others did not. And sadly, some of those who didn’t believe were in his own family.
It’s not all bad news: Jesus’ brother James, for example, would eventually believe and become a leading apostle. But I think John’s story is not so much about rival brothers as it is rival ways of looking at the world. The same divide that separated those who rejected Jesus at the end of chapter 6 from those who stayed would continue to divide the people in chapter 7 and beyond. That divide, apparently, ran through Jesus’ family as well.
And I can’t help wondering: to what extent does it run through our own imaginations? We’ll consider that question in the next post.