After the Cross: James the Brother of Jesus

White cross on dark blue backgroundJames “the Lord’s brother” was missing from the scene of the cross while Jesus suffered and died. Wouldn’t you expect such a close family member to be there, supporting Jesus and Mary in those desperate hours? But then, this particular James had been absent from Jesus’ ministry all along.

In my musical dramatic comedy “James the Brother of Jesus, Transformed,” James appears on a fictional (obviously!) Christian television show to share his personal story of faith in Jesus Christ. But he’s barely settled into a chair on stage when his identity as the brother of Jesus throws the other two guests into a rambunctious argument. Was Mary a virgin all her life? In that case, one guest insists, James must be Joseph’s son from a previous marriage, or a cousin of Jesus, or even a random believer. Or are James and the other brothers and sisters mentioned in the Bible literally Jesus’ younger siblings born of Mary and Joseph, as the other guest argues?

No matter where you stand on this real-life controversy, you can appreciate the obstacles a “brother” of Jesus would have experienced on the road to faith.

JAMES:  I had no part in Jesus’ ministry at all, for the simple reason that I didn’t believe he was the Messiah, or the Son of God, or a prophet, or any of that. None of his brothers believed in him.

INTERVIEWER:  I don’t understand. You said you and Jesus were very close.

JAMES:  That was the problem. I knew who Jesus was and where he came from, and it wasn’t heaven. He was a regular kid like the rest of us.

GUEST #1:  Come on! How “regular” could the Son of God be?

GUEST #2:  Yeah …

(Song “Growing Up With the Son of God.” Asterisks indicate spoken lines.)

GUEST #1 & GUEST #2:  Must have noticed something odd, growing up with the son of God!

GUEST #1:  Didn’t Jesus give some clue?

GUEST #2:  Acting too good to be true?

* JAMES (shrugging):  Not really …

GUEST #1:  Surely such a special boy wouldn’t play with common toys.

GUEST #2:  How did Jesus spend his day? Go off on his own to pray?

* JAMES (nodding):  Now that you mention it …

GUEST #1:  Did he shine in synagogue?

GUEST #2:  Did he heal the neighbor’s dog?

GUEST #1:  Did he have a holy look?

GUEST #2:  Memorize the holy book?

JAMES:  Well, it’s true that Jesus always knew his scriptures backwards and forwards … And there was one time when Mary and Joseph had to go pry Jesus out of the temple in Jerusalem. He was so busy schmoozing with the rabbis that he’d missed the caravan home. Otherwise, there was nothing particularly fancy about him.

INTERVIEWER:  Then where did he get his authority to preach and heal the sick?

JAMES:  That’s what everybody in Nazareth wanted to know. After Jesus became an adult and started preaching in the synagogues, you could hear them buzzing. “Ain’t that the carpenter’s kid? Who does he think he is?”

~ Excerpt from “James the Brother of Jesus, Transformed”

The play goes on to describe how James remained an ardent skeptic until he personally encountered the risen Christ. From that point on, his relationship to Jesus was transformed from earthly brother to eternal servant.

But I can’t help but wonder what went on in James’s head when he heard that Jesus had been arrested and sentenced to death? Did old resentments—perhaps a touch of sibling jealousy—bubble to the surface as he hurried to Jerusalem?

So … This is what becomes of Jesus, the golden child who could do no wrong.

Jesus, who made the whole caravan turn back to Jerusalem because he was showing off in the temple.

Jesus, who always brought a special glow of love to Mary’s eyes.

Jesus, who wouldn’t listen to our friendly advice and publicly insulted us with his “Who are my mother and brothers?” line.

Well, that’s nothing compared to the shame he’s brought upon the family now.

I warned Mary that Jesus was deluded. Asking for trouble. But she was deluded too, for some reason. Finally, she’ll have no choice but to admit I was right. I just hope all our relatives don’t get rounded up and punished along with his crazy followers.

Jesus, the Messiah? No.

Jesus, a crucified criminal.

I wonder, too, how James reacted when he found out Jesus had appointed his pal John to care for his mother, Mary. Did James feel slighted not to be named her guardian?

From the little the Bible says about James, I surmise that he was a good person, a family man. If negative thoughts did creep into his mind, they surely gave way to genuine grief for Jesus and concern for Mary, and perhaps a tiny bit of survivor’s guilt. Certainly they didn’t last long. Soon, the resurrection changed everything.

How might you have felt in James’s sandals?

I can only speculate on James’s thoughts, of course. Read for yourself what the Bible says about Jesus’ brothers in the following verses. Select your favorite translation at
Matthew 13:54–58
Mark 3:19–35
Mark 6:1–3
John 7:1–14
Acts 1:12–14
Galatians 1:15–20
1 Corinthians 9:3–5
The books of James and Jude, attributed to the brothers of Jesus (though that is debated too)

Jump to CreateSpace for Transformed: 5 Resurrection Dramas by Linda Bonney OlinYou can find the entire script of “James the Brother of Jesus, Transformed,” which includes six short songs, in Transformed: 5 Resurrection Dramas, available in paperback and Kindle formats. (Edit Nov., 2015: James’s story is also told in a straightforward interview format, as an alternative version of “James the Brother of Jesus, Transformed.”)

Keep an eye out here on Faith songs and on my Facebook page for announcements of specials on this and my other books.

I’ve already scheduled a Kindle Countdown Deal on Transformed from Sunday, October 19, through Saturday, October 25, 2014. The price on Amazon will drop to $0.99 for the first three days, then jump in daily increments back to the regular ebook list price of $5.99. So prepare to snag your copy while it’s super cheap! This is a great opportunity to Christmas shop for your church’s drama team, worship director, or pastor, and anyone who likes to read thought-provoking Bible-based material, with a bit of humor and music thrown in.

Please leave a comment below. I’d love to hear your thoughts.


2 thoughts on “After the Cross: James the Brother of Jesus

  1. You raised very interesting questions about James. It reminds me of “Doubting Thomas” and the “Prodigal Son”. Neither Thomas nor the prodigal son realize what they had until after the fact. So James realized after the fact who Jesus was and is in retrospect.

    • Thanks for stopping by and commenting, master90212.
      Being late to accept the faith invitation myself, I’m glad that Jesus did not hold it against James, or Thomas either, that their belief took a little longer. The Lord is very generous that way. 🙂

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