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Jesus And His Family

Jesus' life was full of conflict. However, perhaps no event in his life was more conflictual than his relationship with his family. Perhaps this particular conflict relates to his humanity more than any other. Each of us can relate to family problems. We either have or will know the pain of family conflict. Parents versus children, spousal conflict, relative versus relative...all such relationships pose potential problems. Jesus was no exception to this area of concern. Yet, his problems and the way he dealt with them can give us new and special insight into his mission.
There is good reason to believe that family conflict occurred early in the ministry of Jesus. At least three such events point to problems within the family. First, Jesus, with his disciples, went to Cana for a wedding. When the wine ran out Mary, Jesus' mother, informed Jesus of the dilemma. It is as though Mary is requesting her son to do something about the lack of wine. By this time Jesus is already known for his miracles, his healings, etc. He has already chosen his disciples. In other words, his ministry has begun in earnest. Jesus' response to his mother is almost rude, "O woman, what have you to do with me? My hour has not yet come" (Jn 2:4). Have Jesus and Mary already had differences of opinion on other matters? I believe so.
Second, Matthew 12:46 and following report an event in Capernaum where Jesus is interrupted and told that his mother and brothers want to speak with him. Jesus responds, "Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?" He then points to those around him and says, "Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother, and sister and mother." Now, I don't believe that Jesus is implying that his family is not doing the will of the Father. However, I do believe that this response indicates a deeper conflict than perceived at first contact. To deny his family in such a way is more than metaphorical dialogue. I believe that his mother and his brothers were checking up on Jesus, for they thought he was "beside himself" (Mk 3:21).
Third, John 7:1-14 indicated that Jesus and his brothers are having some conflict over attendance at the feast of Tabernacles in Jerusalem. John reports in verse 5, "For even his brothers did not believe in him." The brothers want Jesus to go with them to proclaim his fame. Jesus tells them to go without him. Yet, just a week later he goes to the feast. Why would he not go with them? There is some evidence that Jesus was operating on a different calendar than his brothers. The solar and lunar calendars were a week apart. But, if so, why?
In order to respond to the questions this conflict raises it is necessary to go back to Nazareth, the town of Jesus' boyhood. It is the thought of some biblical scholars that Nazareth refers not so much to the geographical location of Jesus' boyhood but, rather, to his historical lineage. In 1962 a fragment of a marble plaque was uncovered in Caesarea. The spelling of Nazareth in Hebrew showed on the plaque that Nazareth was spelled with a tz (tzade) rather than z (zyne). Thus, the word is netzer (Natzorean, in Greek). "Netzer" is the word for "shoot" ("A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse, from his roots a branch will bear fruit," Isaiah 11:1). All of this is to say that a Natzorean is one that is from the lineage of David. It probably has little to do with anyone living in Nazareth. So, if the Natzoreans are a related group living in a small hamlet in Galilee what is the implication for Jesus?
The Natzoreans were most likely Essenic in their teachings. Their views would have been very narrow and exclusive. The Messiah could come only from their group for their group. Also, the idea of a Messiah would be very definite. The Essenes also believed in a solar calendar which would explain the conflict with his brothers' invitation to go to Jerusalem for the feast of Tabernacles. As Jesus grew, he became aware of a mission that would call him to go beyond the boundaries of such narrow interpretation. He would respond favorably to the Hillelian Pharisaism of Capernaum as opposed to the ultra conservative views of the Natzorean family. It is no wonder that Mary and his brothers would go to Capernaum to check on him and claim him to be "beside himself." He removed himself from their understanding of God. Only those who would come to know a much larger view of God could now be brothers and sisters and mothers.
How difficult it must have been and how very lonely for Jesus when His family didn't believe in him. His new family, i.e., his disciples, would learn from him the vision of salvation for all the world. However, even the disciples would be slow to understand. Both of his families, his natural family and his spiritual family would, in the end, fail to comprehend. This family conflict makes it easier to understand Jesus when he said, "Do you think I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division; for henceforth in one house there will be five divided, three against two and two against three; they will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against her mother," etc...(Lk 12:51-53). It is likely that he experienced this very sort of division within His own family.
We have to ask ourselves which family we belong to: Is it the one that wants to show Jesus the way or is it the family that wants to follow him? The latter family is the one of the Spirit which Jesus continues to call us to. When we consider Jesus and his family, which one do we really belong to?
Dr. Barry W. Kiger, Faculty Jerusalem Center for Biblical Studies Jerusalem, Israel