Read Matthew 13:53-58
Going back to His hometown, while we do not immediately see it, must have been stressful for Jesus. The text is clear that He could do few miracles there. But there is one miracle that is glaring in its absence. To see it, I need to review two assumptions we make about the life of Jesus.
First, as we study the gospels, we find Jesus’ mother fairly active in his life, whether it is taking him home, because the family thinks he is crazy, or at the foot of the cross, watching His last moments. She is still here in Nazareth, with Jesus’ brothers. She was probably in her late forties, or early fifties. But did you notice who was missing from the list of Jesus’ family members? As much as they disagree, scholars tend to agree that Joseph, Jesus’ adoptive father, had died by the time this story takes place. They tend to agree that Joseph had died before Jesus started his public ministry.
Second, that Jesus did not receive His power from on high to work miracles and healings until his baptism in the river Jordan. This contradicts some of the spurious “infancy” gospels of Jesus, but it makes far more sense, and this even much more significant. The Old Testament saints did not have miraculous power until they Spirit came upon them, and it is far more likely the same was true of Jesus. Just as likely, too, this power was withheld from the juvenile and even toddler Jesus, who would have gone through the same struggles with selfishness and juvenile yearnings all of us go through. Only when Jesus proves he could resist temptation without divine power had Jesus been entrusted with supernatural ability.
These two points taken together point to something much more profound going on in Nazareth for Jesus. Buried somewhere outside the village was a box of bones, the remains of his adoptive father. However and whenever Joseph died, it seems logical to assume Jesus was present. As the firstborn son, it would have been his responsibility to care for the family, and certainly to see to burial arrangements. Had they observed tradition as we understand it, Joseph would have been laid out in a tomb while his flesh decomposed, and then Jesus would have had to go back to the tomb to transfer the bones of Joseph to an ossuary for interment.
As Joseph lay on his death bed, do you think Jesus prayed to God, His heavenly Father, to spare Joseph’s life? Did He pray that God would heal him? Did He agonize over the will of God to whether Joseph should have died? Would this have been a moment of great temptation of Jesus to use His power/ His knowledge to do something good? Did the divine Jesus know that Joseph would die, and when? Did they have conversations in the wood shop about this? Did Joseph tell Jesus that it was okay, that he had lived a good life, and that he was ready to go home? That he was proud of his “son”, and that he knew Jesus would save the world through His work and sacrifice? Didn’t Jesus weep at Joseph’s bedside, even though He knew that Joseph had been a good man, and would be in Abraham’s Bosom?
Did Mary turn to Jesus, and ask Him to do something? Did His brothers beg Him to save their father? And is this what caused such a rift between them that they did not believe until after He rose from the dead? I can almost hear James’ voice, “If you are the Son of God, then save our father!” What a powerful temptation that would have been, and what a source of great sorrow.
Joseph was the best father God could have picked to be the man who raised Jesus. No doubt he was a man who loved his own children well. He showed them what it was to be a man of God. And no doubt all of his children loved him, and were grief-stricken when he died.
And yet, is this the moment that separates Jesus from his family? Is this the reason why none of them follow him to the Jordan, or receive the baptism of John? Is this the moment why his family goes to find him, because they think he is crazy, so stricken with grief and sorrow that He believes He can raise the dead? That when He goes back to His hometown, his family are nowhere to be seen, nor seek to defend Him when he is attacked by the people of the town?
I think it is safe to say that Jesus faced this kind of temptation, and reasonable to assume that is such a thing happened in his family, it could certainly happen in yours. I doubt that Jesus was a stranger to family drama, and going home to Nazareth, a place He rarely visited, would have been a place of unusual stress for Him. So if going home for the holidays is a cause for stress, you are in good company. The family of Jesus rejected Him long before they accepted Him. But that isn’t the end of the story.
In 1 Cor 15:7, the scripture says, “Then He appeared to James . . .”
After His initial resurrection, Paul records for us several appearances of the resurrected Jesus. This one stands out. I imagine Jesus appeared to James quietly, silently coming into the shop, picking up familiar tools, and just working alongside him, without saying a word. I imagine James was initially annoyed that his brother would just come into his shop, abandoned three years ago to take up preaching. It was Jesus’ responsibility to take care of the family, not his. “Preaching didn’t pan out, huh?” James’ no doubt was getting warm under the collar until he notices the holes of the nails in Jesus’ hands. Suddenly he realized that the stories of his Brother weren’t just tales in the marketplace. “They said you died. How are you here?”, and yet here He stands, risen again, and standing there with him in his shop. I imagine at some point, the words began to pour out, words beginning with confusion, followed by anger, long-held bitterness at what Jesus had done to their family, and what He did not do. But the grief and the anger melts into sobs, realization setting in, that this wasn’t just his older Brother. This was the Son of God. All that He had done, all the slights their family had suffered, was for this moment. He was dead, and is now alive. He truly was God. He may have been on his knees, apologizing for all the things he had said and done. But in the end, his old Brother embraces him, saying, “All is forgiven.”
By Acts 1:14, Mary, and Jesus’ brothers are all in attendance with the disciples. By Acts 15:13, James speaks up among the assembly, and speaks for the church, passing judgment on the entrance of Gentiles into the Church. By Galatians 2:9, James is considered one of the “pillars” of the Church and even has a book of the New Testament attributed to him. It took some time, but James overcame his anger over his older Brother’s actions, and fully embrace Him as Lord and God.
The Lord knows what you are going through right now. The Lord empathizes with you, more than you know, especially if you are going through the loss of a loved one. Even in this, Jesus has been there. Jesus lost his father before He had the power to save him. Don’t you think that was a lesson that stuck with Him? Do you remember how He had compassion on the widow of Nain, and raised her son back to life? Do you remember how He wept at the tomb of Lazarus, a family that has become a surrogate for His own family in Nazareth? Do you think He may have been reliving the death of His own father a little bit? Jesus’ raised very few people back to life, but have no doubt He knew the very grief that people experience at such loss. Jesus knows your pain too. “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are – yet was without sin.” (Hebrews 4:15)