I guess it’s time to jump in to James’s letter itself, eh? I’ve been putting it off, because, well, there were other things I’ve been wanting to write about… but as is often the case, wanting to write about too many things leads to my not writing about anything at all. So here goes.
The Other Brother
I don’t know what it is about successful, really good people, who make me feel highly jealous and bordering on the bitter. There you go, the ugly truth about me– I do occasionally feel both jealous and bitter. It’s silly, but I have enough of a perfectionist (and sinful) nature that if I see someone (1) whom I respect a whole lot and (2) who clearly has something more “together” than I do, I naturally desire to match their perfection. If I can’t, I naturally desire to see that other person as “wrong” in some way or another, so I can be complacent about my imperfections in their presence. Did you follow all that? Ridiculous, disgusting pride and jealousy issues. Really, really normal human failing.
In fact, it’s so normal a sinful flaw that I always wonder if James, the author of this letter, spent a large portion of his life experiencing this same jealous pride issue. Because, you see, while not everyone has agreed over the centuries on which particular “James” it is who’s writing here, many scholars these days will say it is James the half-brother of Jesus.
A little history reminder; Jesus Christ was the Son of God and the human son of Mary. Mary’s husband, Joseph, had no part in this. In fact, he didn’t even come near Mary in an intimate way until after Jesus’ birth. [If this story is foreign and strange-sounding to you, try reading the whole thing in the Gospels-- Matthew and Luke would be good places to start-- or ask me about it for the rest of the story!] But after Jesus was born, Mary and Joseph got married, had lots of babies, and lived happily ever after.
I wish that were truly the case. They did, in fact, get married. And they did, in fact, have many children together. And I like to think that Mary, the young girl who had to grow up awfully fast once she became the scorned bearer of the Son of God and Saviour of the World, had moments of incredible, if unbearably weighty, joy– as she watched that Son grow up in grace and wisdom.
And yet… and yet. Can you imagine being the family of Jesus? And I’m not even talking about the part in their lives when everything fell apart completely– when the smart, talented, kind-hearted young man who, if unpredictable, had at least always been loving, was suddenly gone– the victim of a mob sentencing and a criminal’s brutal death. Even before that– all through His growing up years– can you imagine being the sibling of the little Jesus? I know that with my jealous pride, I would have found it frustrating…. no, infuriating… to have so perfect a brother. I would have constantly seen His goodness, and been angry at myself for not being so good (and I would have become ever so good at making myself think I was angry at Him). And I would have seen Him making a fool of Himself, as it seemed, going on and on about being the Son of God (what in the world?) and bringing in the Kingdom of God and making people fishers of men and… and… well, for goodness’ sake. I know Mom says He really is all that, but I just don’t see it. And besides, does He always have to draw a crowd like this? It’s just embarrassing.
(Got into the mode there, I guess.) At any rate. I’m just guessing, but I kind of think it wouldn’t be easy for a purely human young person to be the little brother or little sister of Jesus of Nazareth… for so many reasons, not easy. But let’s not pay attention to Emily’s guessings– the Bible talks a bit about this, too. There were several occasions when Jesus and His human family did not see entirely eye to eye. Perhaps the most uncomfortable of these occasions was the one talked about in John 7.
After this, Jesus went around in Galilee, purposely staying away from Judea because the Jews there were waiting to take his life. But when the Jewish Feast of Tabernacles was near, Jesus’ brothers said to him, “You ought to leave here and go to Judea, so that your disciples may see the miracles you do. No one who wants to become a public figure acts in secret. Since you are doing these things, show yourself to the world.” For even his own brothers did not believe in him. Therefore Jesus told them, “The right time for me has not yet come; for you any time is right. The world cannot hate you, but it hates me because I testify that what it does is evil. You go to the Feast. I am not yet going up to this Feast, because for me the right time has not yet come.”
“For even his own brothers did not believe in him.” They thought He merely wanted to “become a public figure”– to show off and get famous. They could not have more completely misunderstood His motives. How sad, and how hard that must have been for Jesus… and for His brothers themselves. If they didn’t understand His true motives, how incredibly frustrating, indeed mind-bogglingly angering, must it have been to watch Him– as it must have seemed to them– throw His life away for no reason, make His parents’ lives miserable and impossible, bring a criminal’s shame to the entire family, and ultimately deprive them of His (again) unpredictable but tolerably loveable presence.
And yet, what transformation had to have occured by the time His brother James came to write this letter to the believers? I ask because James did not begin the letter with any disclaimer about Jesus’ motivations, or about his differing views. He didn’t write to the believers to try to convince them to stop the publicity about his poor misguided brother.
Instead… he begins by calling himself that poor misguided Brother’s slave.
James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ,
To the twelve tribes scattered among the nations:
Just so you know, the word “servant” here does not have the dignified-English-butler concept anywhere in it. It means “bond-servant.” “Slave.”
My journal has this “amplified version” of the first part of that verse: “James, humbling myself to the point that I can call myself bond-servant and slave to God and to my own half-brother Jesus… Jesus, merely an older brother, embarrassing and angering me once… but instead, master. I am His slave. Slave of God and of His equal, my brother in human blood but the equal of God… the Lord Jesus Christ… the Sovereign-over-all (Lord), sovereign even over my own soul… the Savior (Jesus), the only one who could rescue me from my sin… the anointed Messiah (Christ) come to rescue and heal us and the world…”
I know many of you are wondering how I can possibly treat this one line by James so pedantically… but… I just can. I can, because I simply have to pause to marvel (and tell myself over and over again) about how Jesus is so worth following and loving that even His own human brother eventually saw, believed, and became a champion for His cause. And because I need the reminder about humility– if I ever thought I had reasons to hold onto my pride, James tells me otherwise. Please don’t think I’m trying to read too much into the story… I know, ten paragraphs of blogging about one verse and another few passages in the Gospels is overkill. But this isn’t me preaching my emotive imaginings as the Word of God; this is me sharing what the Lord has been teaching me lately when I read the Word of God. My goal in this post (and all the others to come) is not that you believe my ideas as gospel truth, but rather that my rather romantic ideas would inspire you to go read James’s letter for yourself, and let God speak to you in ways unique for you, your life, and your heart.
Until next time: may I let go of my pride, as James did, and call myself (and live) a bond-servant and slave of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ.
There is so much more packed into that first verse of James’s letter… but we’ll save it for another day and another mug of cocoa.
Book: Too Small to Ignore, Wess Stafford (seriously… this is INCREDIBLE)
Music: Chris Medina’s “What Are Words” and Regina Spektor’s “The Call”
Beverage: homemade hot cocoa
On My Mind: “What are words if you really don’t mean them when you say them?”