19 Nissan • Jerusalem
· James the son of Joseph ·
“Justus, how’s that bowl coming?” I asked my 13-year-old son.
“Almost done, Papa.”
About time. He’d been working on it all day, and it was about time to close up the carpenter shop. Then again, I couldn’t blame him too much. I’d been moving slowly today, too.
Mama dropped by again this afternoon with another story about my brother, Jesus. She’d been here a lot this week. She had stayed with us the night before Passover so Jesus could spend the evening with His disciples. Sometime after midnight, one of His disciples pounded on the door, bringing news that He had been arrested. The next afternoon, He was crucified. It happened so fast. And from all the stories I heard, it was crueler than most crucifixions… which was saying something.
Justus held out the bowl. “What do you think?”
I examined it, running my thumb over it. “It’s a little rough along the rim, but that’s all you need to fix.” I smiled at him. “You’re getting better. Good job.”
Justus’ mouth barely twisted up. “Wish I could show Uncle Jesus.”
“I know, son.” I bit back a sigh. Justus had been in Pilate’s courtyard with a friend when my half-brother was condemned to the cross. In hindsight, I wished I had kept my son home. Maybe his uncle’s death wouldn’t have been so traumatic that way.
Justus put the bowl back on the workbench. He crossed his arms, cocked his head, and stared at it. “Think Grandma was being serious?”
I pursed my lips, trying to contain the angry lump rising in my throat. If I had known what Mama was going to tell us, my wife, Naomi, and I would have listened to her alone. To tell us that she had seen Jesus in the flesh, with our children listening, was cruel.
“I don’t know, son. It was probably someone who looked like Him. The same thing happened after your grandpa died. I must have seen at least a dozen men who looked just like him.” Justus looked unconvinced, so I continued firmly, “But I am certain He’s still dead.”
“Then why’s the tomb empty?”
I turned away so Justus couldn’t see my rising irritation. I hadn’t given permission for Mama to take Justus yesterday to the garden where they laid Him. I cleared my throat and continued calmly, “You’ve heard everything I have, son. The disciples stole the body.”
“Then why were the grave clothes bloody and the face-shroud folded so neatly? Then there was all that myrrh and aloe resin sitting on the floor like–”
“JUSTUS!” He hunched his shoulders and turned his face away. I put a fist over my mouth and let out a deep breath. Next time I saw Mama, we would have a little chat. I was trying to protect my son from all these rumors, and she wasn’t helping. “Justus,” I tried again, putting a hand on his shoulder. “Someone who in league with the disciples probably came back later with an identical linen sheet dipped in sheep’s blood. He then folded the shroud and told Grandma that your uncle rose from the dead.”
He bit his lip and didn’t look at me until I put a finger under his chin and lifted his face. His dark eyes were troubled as he shrugged lethargically, and I’m not sure he fully accepted my answer. I made a mental note to talk to Naomi about something we could do to cheer him up.
“Look, uh, it’s almost time for supper. Why don’t you go get cleaned up, and I’ll sweep the floor.” Justus nodded and walked into the house, staring at the floor as he went. “God of my fathers,” I murmured. “Help me make him understand!”
I sighed and brushed all the sawdust and shavings from the workbench to the floor, then grabbed the broom.
Growing up in Jesus’ shadow had been… difficult. He was the Joseph to my Ruben. The golden child, even to Papa. Ironic, since they weren’t related at all. What was worse was that Jesus deserved it. My friends who struggled for their parents’ approval at least had the pleasure of knowing that the favorite child was two-faced. I, however, never caught Jesus doing anything wrong. And I had tried. Hard.
The day that I married Naomi was the best day of my life for two reasons. First, I was the typical exuberant bridegroom. Second, we moved near her family here in Jerusalem and I never looked back. I thought my problems were over. I was no longer “James, Jesus’ little brother,” I was “James, the carpenter from Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” That felt good.
Then my crazy brother had the gall to go into public ministry. What’s worse, He set Himself up as the Messiah. What a joke. He was a good man, sure. But Messiah? Nah. He wasn’t grand enough. Fortunately, He mostly stayed in Galilee and left me alone the rest of the time. But it was difficult to keep my children’s excitement contained, especially Justus, who would sneak off to go see Jesus whenever He was in town. It left me wondering if he loved Jesus more than me.
Then, Jesus was killed five days ago. It had been a shock. As irritating as He was, I never wanted Him to die so young. But what was even more shocking was that I actually missed Him. I laid awake at night with a lump in my throat, wishing that I could have gotten to know Him as a brother, not a competitor. Last night, I had actually cried while I waited for sleep to come.
Knock, knock. “Hello in the house?” Someone called from the front door on the other side of the courtyard.
“Justus? Could you get that?” I called into the main part of the house. If Naomi were here, she would answer it, but she was at the community oven down the street with our other children. Tonight, my three younger brothers and all their families were coming over for supper, so we needed more bread.
“Sure.” Justus dried his hands on his tunic and ran through the enclosed courtyard to the gate. I stooped to sweep under the workbench.
The gate squeaked open behind me, then there was a pause. “Peace be on you, Justus,” a man said. It was a happy voice that I recognized, but I couldn’t remember who it belonged to.
I swept everything into a pan and dumped it on the pile of shavings outside the workshop door. Justus held the gate open at an angle that prevented me from seeing who was there. “Justus? Who is it?” He stood stiffly, one hand on the gate. Slowly, his head swiveled to stare at me. His eyes were wider than I had ever seen them. His mouth formed an “O.” I sighed and propped the broom right inside the door then walked toward him. “Who is it?” I repeated. “You’re looking at me like it’s someone back from the dead!”
Justus paled. I scratched the back of my neck. That wasn’t the most considerate simile to use right now. His mouth moved, but no words came out. “Justus!” I reprimanded, pulling the door away from him. “When I ask you a question, I expect–”
It was my brother. Jesus.
My knees gave out.
“Careful, there.” Jesus’ strong hand steadied my shoulder. His eyes flashed with concern. I glanced down at His wrist. There was a hole there, as large as my thumbnail. I nearly collapsed again. Jesus wrapped His arm around my middle and carried me into the courtyard. “Justus, go get some wine,” He instructed, kicking the door closed. “Hurry!”
Justus blinked like he had woken from a trance. He turned and ran into the house. Jesus gently helped me sit down on a bench that sat against the courtyard wall. I held my head in my hands, gasping for breath. He gently rubbed my back, but He didn’t say anything.
Justus pounded back, then I heard liquid pouring. Jesus knelt before me and handed me the full wooden cup. I took it in both hands and gulped gratefully. Jesus then poured some into the wineskin’s lid and handed it to Justus.
Oh God of my fathers! What does this mean?
Jesus looked into my eyes. Even when we were boys, I hated it when He did that. His gaze was so piercing, as though He was seeing straight into my soul. This time, though, I didn’t look away. “James.” Tears welled in my eyes. “I Am Who I Say I Am.”
If He hadn’t grabbed the cup just then, I would have dropped it. I covered my face with my hands and sobbed. Jesus sat down beside me and pulled me into a fierce embrace. I wrapped my arms around Him and cried. I don’t know how long we sat there. When my tears subsided enough for words, I sobbed into His shoulder, “For-give… me. I–I’ve been a fool. A… a hard-hearted… stupid… fool.”
He pulled me closer and laid his cheek against mine and murmured, “‘See, I am taking your guilt away. I will clothe you in fine robes… If you will walk in My ways, obey My commission, judge My house and guard My courtyards; then I will give you free access among these, My chosen.'”*
I sobbed even harder.
+ + + + +
“Go ahead. Put your fingers in it,” Jesus told Justus and the rest of the children, gesturing to the scar in his side. There were fifteen of them in all huddling around Him as stood before them in only some Roman breeches called braccae. He hadn’t volunteered how He got them, and I didn’t ask. Joseph, Simon, Jude, and I watched as we reclined with our wives around the picnic blanket spread in the courtyard.
The kids stared at each other instead of taking Him up on His offer. Finally, Simon’s seven-year-old son, Aaron, slipped his finger into it, his eyes growing wide when his second knuckle joint disappeared in the hole. “Wow! That’s deep!”
“Did it hurt?” Hadassah, my three-year-old daughter, asked.
Jesus shook His head. “Not that one. All the others did, though. But this happened to fulfill what was said in the psalms and prophets. Justus, have you memorized the twenty-second psalm yet?” Justus nodded. “What does it say about the Messiah’s suffering?”
Justus cocked his head, his eyebrows furrowing. I leaned into Joseph and whispered, “Isn’t that psalm full of that kind of thing?”
Joseph nodded. “I didn’t realize it was all about the Messiah, though.”
“Um…” Justus said. ” ‘I am poured out like water; all my bones are out of joint; my heart has become like wax– it melts inside me…’ and, uh, then, later on, it says, ‘they pierce my hands and feet.”*
Jesus nodded. “Isaiah and Zechariah also speaks of it: ‘I offered My back to those who struck me, My cheeks to those who plucked out My beard; I did not hide My face from insult and spitting.’* And, ‘They will look to me, whom they pierced.’*”
Hadassah fingered the lip of the scar. “But why did they hurt you?”
“Yeah!” Justus nodded. “Why didn’t the religious leaders recognize You for who You are?”
Jesus sighed and pulled His plain, well-worn robe over His head. ” ‘People despised and avoided Him, a man of pains, well acquainted with illness. Like someone from whom people turn their faces, He was despised; we did not value Him.’* The Psalmist also said, ‘The very rock that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone! This has come from the Lord, and in our eyes it is amazing.’*”
Jude, on my other side, shook his head and muttered, “How many times have I heard that passage at the synagogue? I never realized that the ‘builders’ referred to our elders.”
I snickered and whispered back, “Do you remember how Rabbi Elihu would make us recite a passage over and over if we didn’t quote it perfectly in school? I had a lot of trouble with that psalm. I lost count of how many times he had me say it. I never dreamed that the ‘rock’ referred to our brother.”
Jesus looked up at me and grinned. I blinked. How had He heard that? I sighed. Then again, He is… God. I looked up at the darkening sky, stroking my beard. Letting that one sink in would take some time. He can probably sense my thoughts. I looked over at Jesus. When He met my gaze, I raised one eyebrow. His eyes twinkled merrily as He nodded. My mouth fell open and He cleared His throat, looking away from me. I squinted at Him. Did You just laugh at me? He studiously reached for another piece of unleavened bread, His face blank.
“But…” Simon sighed. “Why did the Messiah… You… have to die? Was it just because the prophets foretold it? Or was there a purpose beyond that?”
Hadassah sat next to Jesus, watching as He carefully ripped the bread into little pieces. “Isaiah said, ‘Although He had done no violence and had said nothing deceptive, yet it pleased the Lord to crush Him with illness, to see if He would present Himself as a guilt offering. If He does, He will see His offspring; and He will prolong His days.’ ”
He took a piece and handed it to Hadassah. She took the bread with one hand and draped the other arm around His shoulder, leaning against Him comfortably. Jesus smiled at her and continued, ” ‘And at His hand the Lord’s desire will be accomplished.”
I glanced down at His wrist and gulped.
“‘After this ordeal, He will see satisfaction. “By His knowing pain and sacrifice, My righteous servant makes many righteous; it is for their sins that He suffers. Therefore I will assign Him a share with the great, He will divide the spoil with the mighty, for having exposed Himself to death and being counted among the sinners, while actually bearing the sin of many and interceding for the offenders,” says the Lord.’ “
Aaron sat down next to his mother and stared at Jesus, his face screwed into a questioning look. Finally, he shook his head. “I don’t get it.”
Jesus smiled at him. “I’ll tell you what I told My disciples a few days ago: The Messiah had to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day; and in His name repentance leading to forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed to people from all nations, starting with Jerusalem.”*
“Starting with Jerusalem?” Justus’ eyes widened. “Like, immediately?”
“First, you must be baptized with the Holy Spirit, which will happen soon. Then, yes.”
Justus spluttered, “But… Jews from all over the world are here for the Passover.” Jesus’ smile widened and He lifted His eyebrows a couple of times. “And when they go home…”
“Exactly.” Jesus nodded, His eyes shining. “They’ll make disciples in every nation, baptizing them into the reality of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. They’ll teach their disciples to obey everything that I have commanded.”*
I leaned back on my elbow, my eyebrows raised. “You don’t dream small, do You?”
Jesus chuckled and shook His head. “It’s more than a hope. It’s a promise. For you, for your children, and for those far away– as many as the Lord our God may call!”*
+ + + + +
Thank you for reading part 7 of The Holy Week Series! I hope you’ve enjoyed it!
If you want to read the rest of the stories in this series, click the links below!
Part 1: “Behold the Man” 13-year-old Alexander is esctatic to go to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover. But what he doesn’t realize is that this festival will change his life forever.
Part 2: The Last and the First John the Disciple has eaten more meals than he can count with his Master, Jesus of Nazareth. But this one is different. In many respects, it feels like a meal to end all meals. Then again, is it a herald of things to come?
Part 3: The Commander’s Vigil “Jesus went as usual to the Mount of Olives… There appeared to Him an angel from heaven, giving Him strength.” (John 22:39 and 42, CJB)
Part 4: The House of Judgment Nicodemus, a pious lawyer and friend of Jesus, is summoned to be a juryman for the trial of Jesus of Nazareth. As Jesus is tried for His life, Nicodemus can’t help but notice how unusual and, well, illegal the proceedings are. He wonders when the council will give up… or if they’ll succeed.
Part 5: The Sacrifice Joseph of Arimathea has been waiting expectantly for the Kingdom of God, and believes that Jesus heralds its arrival. But when Jesus is crucified, Joseph is left only with would-have’s, could-have’s, and should-have’s.
Part 6: The Sword-Pierced Heart When Jesus was a baby, a prophet warned Mary that a sword would pierce her heart. 33 years later, that prophecy came true in ways she couldn’t imagine possible.
*All scripture quotes are from the Complete Jewish Bible, © 1998 by David H. Stern. The following passages were quoted (in order that they appeared in the story):
Zechariah 3:4, 7
Psalms 22:14, 16
Isaiah 53:9b-12, (54:1)
Sources and Further Exploration
Roman Outfit First Century