I know I was only two and a half when it happened, but I can still remember the first time I held my little brother.
His hands were small. His voice was a mewling squeak. He was also magical and mine—a baby who transformed the way I moved about in the world, as babies often do.
With my brother’s arrival, I was suddenly a big sister. His new existence gave me the role of one who walked before, carving out paths and experiences for someone who followed me. My existence was now more than splashing around in dog water bowls and playing dress-up. When I held him for the first time, I wanted to be his role model, someone he could look up to and be proud of.
It’s been three years since my brother and I last spoke to each other. Families are messy and complicated that way. But I wouldn’t trade a single moment of our growing up beside each other.
Because having a sibling through my formative years taught me that love happens when we are in motion, not when we stand still.
And this is most truly reflected in the family life of Jesus himself.
Here are a few things many of us have perhaps never thought of before when it comes to Jesus:
- We hear relatively little of Jesus’ childhood and life at home with Mary and Joseph, but Jesus had siblings too.
- Jesus’ brothers didn’t believe He was the Son of God while he was alive (John 7:5).
- When Jesus returned home at one point in the middle of his ministry, his family thought he had lost his mind (Mark 3:21).
Imagine if the older brother you were constantly compared to was Jesus Christ. In your day-to-day world, this meant your family was visible to others in varying degrees as the household behind a radical religious leader. And when you asked Jesus to leave His crowd of followers and come home with you and your mother, He said, “…Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother” (Matthew 12:49-50).
Jesus’ said to His brother James then—and to many others after—simply, “My time has not yet come, but your time is always here” (John 7:6, ESV).
Think of all the questions boiling in the minds of Jesus’ family at this response. They had to be feeling confused, exasperated—and even dismissed and ignored. He was their older brother. Jewish culture expected Jesus to model leadership in the family. And instead, He told them His obligation was to those He served through His ministry.
All of this culminated when Jesus knew He was being led to die, and He didn’t call on any of His biological brothers or sisters to sit with His mother at the foot of His cross. Instead, He asked one of His best friends, John, to take care of Mary after His death—as if she didn’t have a whole house of children to already care for her (John 19:25-27).
How do you even begin addressing all of this around the family dinner table?
Louder than Words
We all know that words can hurt. They can build walls and open schisms between families that are often never repaired.
But the beauty of Jesus and His brothers James and Jude is that their story doesn’t end in the hurt.
Instead, after Jesus died, His brothers were some of the first people to visit the empty tomb. They helped found the Christian church in Jerusalem. They walked beside Peter and Paul. And James even advocated for inclusion and openness in the early Christian church, reminding his fellow believers that how a person lives their life, not the traditions they follow, is what really maps the contents of their heart (Acts 15:13-21).
In their own words, we stumble; we are stained; we are the ones to blame. And yet, we can still visit those in need. We can still stand up for good in this broken world. And sometimes, we can still mend fractured connections from our past.
This is what Jesus did for James and Jude. In the time after His resurrection, He empowered His brothers to become founders of the first Christian church in Jerusalem. And through this moment of hope, Jesus modeled what commitment to real love looks like. Interestingly, just as is true of Jesus’ formative years, none of this resolution between the brothers is recorded in Scripture.
I still have to believe—for James and Jude to so wholeheartedly lean into the work of spreading His message—the Gospel of Jesus’ story gave them space to name the hurts they carried. It called them to let go of the irate words they once said toward Jesus in their past. And then, they were invited to live out this Gospel promise for others.
A Complicated Thing
No family is perfect. No story is fully written. James and Jude were half-brothers of the literal Savior of the world—and they still took a whole lifetime to figure out how to live openly in their faith.
Often, thanks to time and experience, love is a complicated thing that wriggles out of our hands if we’re not careful. And yet, we are called constantly as a family of believers to set aside division and disagreement (1 Corinthians 1:10).
I don’t know if my brother and I will ever speak again in my lifetime. I also know I will still always love him. Both can be true, as Jesus’ earthly family knew all too well. It is the great oxymoron of our belief. We constantly balance our double identities of sinner and saint, all through the renewal of Christ, who Himself is both fully human and fully divine.
Jesus’ love is bigger than all our human divisions, and He repeatedly calls us to the hard work of living and loving together.