In a large family, its not unusual for one of the children to be a misfit. So it was with my family.
My oldest brother was somewhat strange, shall we say. What made him different? Maybe it was because he had a different father! Not everybody knew this, and Ive only recently learned it myself, but he was merely my half-brother.
My name is Simon, son of Joseph. Ive lived all my life in the city of Shimron, in the province of Galilee. Were presently under attack by Roman soldiers who are trying to root out the local Jewish rebels. I hope the siege doesnt last long. Im now 60 years of age, no longer a young man, and I avoid getting involved in politics.
Some people mistakenly think my family doesnt come from Shimron but from another Galilean town called Nazareth. I take offense at that. Nazareth is only a tiny, poor farm village a few miles east of here. Fewer than 200 people live there, and they dont even have a synagogue. Ill explain later how this misconception came about.
The Unwed Mother
I mentioned that my father was Joseph. As a young man he was an apprentice carpenter here in Shimron. He was engaged to a local girl named Mary, who eventually would become my mother. But there was a potential scandal being whispered about: Mary was already pregnant.
Before Mother died, she confessed the whole story to me. She had been pondering all these things for years. [Luke 2:19] It seems that shortly after she promised to marry Joseph, she had been forcibly impregnated by a soldier named Pantera, a member of the occupying Roman army.
Fear not, Mary, he told her. Youre going to be a mother. I shall come upon you, and the power of the Empire shall overshadow you. She was only a woman, so she could not object. I am your servant, she said; let it be to me according to your word. Afterwards, the soldier departed from her. She hurried away to stay with her cousin Elizabeth in the hill country. [Luke 1:30-31, 35, 38-40]
Joseph found out that Mary was no longer a virgin and there was a baby on the way. He knew it wasnt his. As a man of principle, he was going to call off the engagement, but then he had a dream that convinced him to go through with the wedding. He waited to consummate the marriage until after the child was born. Then he raised the boy as his own, and he called him Jesus. [Matthew 1:18-25]
Afterwards, Joseph fathered six children with Mary: four sons and two daughters. Those four boys were James and Joses and Judas and Simon. [Mark 6:3, Matthew 13:55-56] James came along only one year after Jesus, and he eventually became the head of the family. I'm Simon, and I'm five years younger than James.
His Fathers House
I remember the spring when I was six years old and Jesus was twelve. My big brother was currently studying the Scriptural background of Passover, and our family had made our annual trip to Jerusalem to celebrate that festival. On the way home, we had already been on the road for a day when we realized Jesus was missing. We had to go back for him. Eventually, after three days of looking, we found him sitting in the Temple surrounded by rabbis. Here was this twelve-year-old boy debating religion with the old men, behaving like a learned teacher himself!
Mother scolded him, Why did you go off by yourself? Your father and I have been terribly worried, searching for you! Jesus replied, What took you so long to find me? Didnt you realize that I would be in my fathers house? To which Father retorted, My house is in Galilee! And thats where you belong, young man. Lets get going! Weve already wasted four days! [Luke 2:41-51]
Father had hoped that his eldest son might join him in the carpentry shop one day, but it was becoming apparent that Jesus had ideas of his own. After he became an adult, he decided he would be a Nazarite, an ascetic consecrated to God. That lasted less than a year. Then Father died.
Jesus was angry with God. He renounced his supposedly solemn vow, and he went back to drinking wine and cutting his hair like a normal person. But the neighbors made fun of his backsliding. The failed Nazarite was now merely a nazarette. Or maybe a nazareenie.
He used to be known as Jesus son of Joseph. Now the neighbors mockingly called him Jesus the Nazareenie. The name stuck. When he later became famous, many a follower also claimed the title of Nazarene as if it were an honor. One of them, Paul, was described as a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes. [Acts 24:5]
Gentiles and other outsiders asked, Whats a Nazarene? Theyd never heard of Nazarites. Since they knew Jesus was from Galilee, where theres a little town called Nazareth, eventually they assumed Jesus the Nazarene must mean Jesus of Nazareth. Several authors have started to write down my brothers story in Greek, and thats the town thats being named in their gospels. Im not sure Jesus ever even visited that insignificant little hamlet.
Lost, in the Desert: One Mind
He did, however, take a trip to the River Jordan. He was still searching for a religious identity, and hed heard that John the Baptist was preaching there. Jesus got baptized. He heard voices. [Matthew 3:13-17] Then he drifted off by himself again.
This time he wandered into the desert. When he finally came home forty days later, he told Mother he had been fasting. He claimed he had eaten nothing the whole time. I was among the wild animals, he said, but the angels gave me everything I needed. [Mark 1:13] Then, in his famished state, he started having visions. He met the devil, who magically transported him to the top of the Temple and dared him to jump off. The devil also offered him all the kingdoms of the world if Jesus would only become a devil-worshipper. But he declined the honor. [Luke 4:1-12]
We began to wonder whether Jesus was in his right mind. Had he in fact been possessed by the devil? Was he going crazy? Were we in danger of being related to a raving madman?
Mother was invited to a wedding at Cana. Jesus had wandered off again, but he came to the ceremony. To our surprise, he brought along several strangers he'd just met. He called them his disciples. He impressed the other guests with a magic trick, turning water into wine, and soon he had acquired a larger group of credulous admirers. [John 1:43-2:11]
We started legal proceedings to take charge of him. He was now an adult, of course, but for his own good we wanted him placed into the custody of the family. [Mark 3:21] But he moved out of town.
Jesus of Capernaum
He settled in Capernaum on the Sea of Galilee, and at the age of thirty he took up a new trade: he became a preacher, like John the Baptist. [Matthew 4:13, 17] Because his mind worked in unusual ways, he often made audacious statements that delighted the people. He roused the rabble, and large crowds of them began following him as he travelled throughout Galilee. [Matthew 4:23, 25]
He did encounter some skeptics. Isnt it true, some of them asked, that youre a Samaritan, and that youre possessed? I am not possessed, he retorted. I am honoring my father. Anyone who obeys my teaching will never see death.
Now we know youre possessed! they answered. Abraham is dead. So are the prophets. Are you greater than our father Abraham? Hes dead, and the prophets are dead. Who do you claim to be?
Before Abraham was born, Jesus replied, I am.
That sounded like he was claiming to be God, whose holy name is "I AM." That almost got him stoned to death. [John 8:48-59]
I Have No Family
We all went over to Capernaum to serve the papers committing him for suspicion of insanity. But when we arrived, there were so many people crowded into the house that they couldnt even eat lunch. [Mark 2:1, 3:20-21]
We sent in a note requesting Jesus to come out and see us. He refused. Apparently when the messenger informed him, Your mother and brothers are outside asking for you, he replied, Who are my mother and my brothers? Here are my mother and my brothers. He indicated the followers gathered around him. Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother. [Mark 3:31-35]
So Jesus disowned his own family. As it turned out, that was our last opportunity. He had become too popular for us to have any chance of restraining him.
Not only that, he instructed his followers to forget the Fifth Commandment and turn their backs on their own relatives. He said, Ive come to set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man will find his enemies under his own roof. If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, even his own life, he cannot be a disciple of mine. [Matthew 10:35-36, Luke 14:26]
Later this advocate of hatred visited Shimron to teach in our synagogue. But the people here knew who he was: the foolish Nazareenie, the carpenters son, a nobody like the rest of us. They were convinced Jesus didn't know what he was talking about. Who does this man think he is? they asked. Where does he get all this wisdom? [Matthew 13:54-57]
He told them, I am the bread that came down from heaven. They objected, This is Jesus son of Joseph! We watched him grow up. We knew his father. We know his mother. How can he tell us now, I have come down from heaven? [John 6:41-42]
The spirit of the Lord is upon me, Jesus said, quoting the prophet Isaiah. An inspired prophet like myself is honored everywhere except, unfortunately, in his home town and among his own family. With that, the congregation had heard enough. They jumped up and chased him out of the synagogue and almost threw him off a cliff. [Luke 4:16-30]
Jesus continued his bold preaching for a few years. The crowds still came, but his more outrageous teachings were not universally accepted even by his disciples. This is more than we can stand! some said. How can anyone listen to such talk? [John 6:59-60] Many of his disciples walked out on him. [John 6:66]
Perhaps, it occurred to me, Jesus shouldnt be toiling in relative obscurity in Galilee. On a broader stage, in Judea, he might find more people willing to listen.
Of course, my brothers and I didn't have any faith in Jesus ourselves. But when we were planning to go up to Jerusalem for the Feast of Tabernacles, we suggested that he might reach a larger audience if he came along with us. Show yourself to the world! I urged. You could be a superstar. He declined. The world, you say? The world hates me for exposing the wickedness of its ways.
But his behavior was becoming more erratic. He sneaked into Jerusalem anyway, without telling anybody! Halfway through the festival we discovered he was teaching in the Temple. [John 7:1-10,14]
And he did more than teach. Offended by the commercialization of the holy place, Jesus went on a rampage. He made a whip and chased away the Temple workers who were selling pigeons for the worshippers to sacrifice. He overturned the tables at the currency exchange, and he tried to stop people from carrying merchandise through the court. [Mark 11:15-16] The priests asked him, Who gave you permission to act like this? He said, I'm not going to tell you. [Mark 11:27-28, 33]
He asked the crowd, Did not Moses give you the law? Yet not one of you keeps it. Why are you trying to kill me? They answered, Who wants to kill you? Youre crazy! [John 7:19-20]
End of the Road
He might have been becoming paranoid, but his feeling that his life was in danger was not completely delusional. There were, in fact, some who wanted him out of the way. Eventually his behavior became too much for the authorities. Jesus was arrested and sentenced to death.
Mother and the rest of the family actually were present at his execution. [John 19:25-27] We were in Jerusalem for Passover. It was a very sad day. Although Jesus might have been a lunatic, he was our lunatic.
But the story wasnt over. Some of his more fanatic followers convinced themselves that Jesus had been the one predicted to save Israel, the Messiah. They claimed he had never truly seen death but had ascended into heaven.
Others objected that Jesus could not be the promised one. Study the Scriptures, and youll find that no prophet comes out of Galilee. The Messiah is to be of the family of David, from Davids village of Bethlehem. [John 7:42, 52]
Thus, if his disciples wanted to claim that Jesus had been the Messiah, they had to invent some explanations. Perhaps Jesus actually did come from Bethlehem. Maybe he had been born there when Mother and Father were visiting for some reason. [Luke 2:1-7] And perhaps our family was in fact descended from David. This was news to me, but a couple of genealogies were drawn up, each purportedly tracing Fathers royal ancestry. Neither of them got even Grandfathers name right. [Matthew 1:1-16, Luke 3:23-38]
In pagan mythology, the story of any dying-and-rising immortal typically includes certain details about how his life began. Often, our heros mother is a virgin. She is miraculously inseminated not by a mere mortal but by a god. [Luke 1:30-35] The hero's birth is heralded by signs in heaven. The child is welcomed by respected leaders who predict the greatness that is destined for him. [Matthew 2:1-2, Luke 2:25-38] Therefore, these essentials were added to the tale of Jesus so that the story of the Jewish Messiah might properly impress the rest of the Greek-speaking world. They may eventually find their way into the gospels that are being written.
The Nazarenes Live On
Our familys number-two son, James, later became a leader of the Nazarene sect in Jerusalem, where he was known as the brother of the Lord. [Galatians 1:19, Acts 15:13-21]
Thus we see that the story of the sons of Mary has not yet been completed. Theres a possibility that it may continue, maybe for several years to come.
Click here for other Bible stories I've retold in the first person.