From John’s Gospel:

Now the Jewish festival of Booths was near. So [Jesus’] brothers said to him, “Leave here and go to Judea so that your disciples also may see the works you are doing; for no one who wants to be widely known acts in secret. If you do these things, show yourself to the world.”

(From the Daily Office Lectionary – John 7:2-4 – August 29, 2012)
Icon of Jesus and his brother JamesThe picture of Jesus getting advice from his brothers just tickles me. John makes such a deal of it (while pointing out that his brothers did not believe in him – as the Messiah, I suppose – at the time). It seems so at odds with John’s otherwise oh-so-perfect, oh-so-divine Jesus!

It isn’t clear who these brothers are; there are some who suggest they are older half-brothers. Although there’s no biblical warrant for this, there is this pious invention of a first family for Joseph. The story is that Joseph was a lot older than Mary, had been married before, and had sons from that first marriage. Thus, Mary became a step-mother and Jesus had a bunch of older half-brothers. The reason for this invention is a belief in the “perpetual virginity” of Mary which seems to have originated in the 2nd Century with Irenaeus; his contemporary Origen came up with the step-brothers theory. What I always wonder about is why there’s no mention of these other kids in the few stories we have of Christ’s infancy and childhood. Where were they when Joseph and Mary made the trip to Bethlehem? Did they go along (then why aren’t they portrayed in Luke’s Gospel)? Or were they left home with relatives? What about the flight to Egypt? Surely Joseph wouldn’t have left them behind while he moved to another country! Were they with the family in Jerusalem when, instead of joining the return party, Jesus stayed behind to dazzle the Temple intellectuals? If they were, why didn’t they help in the search for the missing boy? Anyway, as this probably makes fairly clear, the whole perpetual virginity thing seems suspect to me.

So if these brothers aren’t Joseph’s boys from a first marriage, they must be Joseph’s and Mary’s subsequent issue; after all, Jesus is described by Luke as Mary’s “firstborn” (Luke 2:7). Presumably they are “James and Joses and Judas and Simon” (named in Mark 6:3 and Matthew 13:55), and they are Jesus’ younger brothers.

I never had a younger brother. I had an older brother (nearly a decade older, in fact). He passed away several years ago and I often miss his brotherly advice. We were not close during my childhood, but once I was in college we got close and became good friends. It helped that we lived in the same metropolitan area; I was a student at UC:San Diego and later at California Western School of Law in San Diego; my brother was on the faculty at San Diego State University. We saw each other often, enjoyed each other’s company, and I often turned to him for counsel.

Jesus getting advice from his brothers (whether they were older or younger doesn’t really matter) appeals to me. I can relate to that picture of Jesus and it helps me to believe that Jesus can relate to me. I believe Jesus can (and does) give me brotherly advice.


Father Funston is the rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio.