A Highly Favored Family—Why?
WOULD it not be an honor for a family to have as one of its members a man who could provide the means for bringing lasting relief from sickness, pain, insecurity and violence? Over nineteen centuries ago there was such a family. It was the family into which Jesus, the Messiah or Christ, was born.
Of all the families then in existence, why was this one so highly favored? Was it because of its prominence, wealth or outstanding achievements in the Roman world? We should not expect that to be the case. Because Jehovah God does not judge by outward appearances but examines the heart—its motivations and desires. (1 Sam. 16:7) A consideration of the Biblical record about the human relatives of the man Jesus can, therefore, aid us in seeing what the Creator looks for in those whom he approves as his servants.
The Messiah was to come through the royal line of David. And it was a modest and humble woman of the Davidic line, Mary the daughter of Heli,* whom Jehovah chose to be the mother of his Son. When told of this, Mary, with due modesty, replied: “Look! Jehovah’s slave girl!” For her to become pregnant as an engaged virgin could have raised questions in the minds of others about her professed chastity. Nevertheless, she humbly consented to God’s will, saying to the angel Gabriel: “May it take place with me according to your declaration.” (Luke 1:38) Evidently, strong faith in Jehovah God made her confident that willing submission to his will could never lead to harm.
Mary was devoted to true worship. Though, being a woman, she was not obligated by the Mosaic law to be present for the festival of the passover, yet she customarily attended that festival at Jerusalem along with her husband Joseph. (Luke 2:41; Ex. 23:17; 34:23) Her appreciation for spiritual things did not diminish with the passing of years. In fact, she became a loyal disciple of Jesus Christ. After Jesus’ ascension to heaven she continued to assemble with the apostles, persisting in prayer with them and others. She was evidently among the about 120 disciples who received the holy spirit on Pentecost in 33 C.E.—Acts 1:14; 2:1-4.
Mary’s husband, the carpenter Joseph, was a righteous man who quickly responded to divine direction. Before his being united in marriage to Mary, he learned that she was pregnant. Not yet acquainted with the full facts, he wanted to handle the situation as mercifully as possible. Therefore he sought to avoid making a public spectacle of Mary when formally dissolving the engagement, which was then considered just as binding as marriage. However, upon learning the true circumstances and being given divine direction in a dream, Joseph unhesitatingly took Mary as his wife.—Matt. 1:19-24.
A comparison of Luke 2:22-24 with Leviticus 12:8 shows that Joseph was materially poor. Yet he took his whole family yearly to Jerusalem for the celebration of the passover. (Luke 2:41) Doubtless his appreciation for sacred things contributed to an atmosphere that was well suited for Jesus to ‘continue growing and getting strong, being filled with wisdom.’ (Luke 2:40) Joseph evidently also taught Jesus carpentry.—Matt. 13:55; Mark 6:3.
The Bible does not mention anything about Joseph’s view of Jesus’ preaching. It may be that he was already dead at the time that his adopted son was immersed by John the Baptist. Joseph doubtless did not live to see Jesus’ impalement. Had he been alive, it is unlikely that the impaled Jesus would have entrusted Mary to the care of the apostle John.—John 19:26, 27.
HALF BROTHERS AND SISTERS
Jesus was Mary’s “firstborn” son, but he was not an only son in the family of Joseph and Mary. (Luke 2:7) The Scriptures quote those who knew Jesus as saying: “Where did this man get this wisdom and these powerful works? Is this not the carpenter’s son? Is not his mother called Mary, and his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas? And his sisters, are they not all with us? Where, then, did this man get all these things?”—Matt. 13:54-56.
The fact that Jesus was a son in a large family explains an event that took place when he was about twelve years of age. The family was returning to Nazareth from the Passover celebration at Jerusalem. Though Jesus was missing, Joseph and Mary did not discover this until after having traveled for a day. They assumed that he was in the company of relatives or acquaintances. If there had been only one child for them to look after, it would be hard to imagine how such a thing could have happened.—Luke 2:42-45.
During the first three years of Jesus’ earthly ministry, his half brothers did not exercise faith in him. (John 7:5) But by the time of Pentecost of the year 33 C.E. this had changed. After his resurrection, Jesus had “appeared to James,” evidently his half brother. This doubtless contributed to building up the conviction, not only of James, but also of Jesus’ other half brothers, that Jesus was the Messiah. Thereafter Jesus’ half brothers met with the eleven faithful apostles and others in an upper room at Jerusalem and were evidently among those who received the holy spirit.—1 Cor. 15:7; Acts 1:14-26; 2:1-4.
Jesus’ half brother apparently was the James who served as an elder in the Jerusalem congregation and he evidently wrote the inspired “Letter of James.” (Acts 12:17; Jas. 1:1) The Jude who wrote a letter that became part of the Bible canon was likely James’ brother. Neither of these writers capitalized on their fleshly relationship to Jesus but humbly acknowledged themselves to be ‘slaves of Jesus Christ.’—Jas. 1:1; Jude 1.
Jesus’ earthly mother Mary was related to Elizabeth of the tribe of Levi and in the priestly line of Aaron. This Elizabeth and her husband, priest Zechariah, were the God-fearing parents of John the Baptist, the forerunner of Jesus Christ. (Luke 1:36-40) According to tradition, Mary’s mother and Elizabeth’s mother were fleshly sisters of the tribe of Levi. That would mean that Mary and Elizabeth were first cousins and John the Baptist and Jesus were second cousins. The Bible, however, does not reveal just how Mary and Elizabeth were related.
Salome, the wife of Zebedee and the mother of two of Jesus’ apostles, James and John, may have been a sister of Mary. There is some Scriptural support (though not conclusive) for this traditional view. John 19:25 reads: “By the torture stake of Jesus . . . there were standing his mother and the sister of his mother; Mary the wife of Clopas [Alphaeus], and Mary Magdalene.” At Matthew 27:56 and Mark 15:40, mention is made of Salome or the mother of the sons of Zebedee in connection with the same incident. Hence, if the same women are referred to as at John 19:25, Salome would be the sister of Mary. This would mean that Jesus’ faithful apostles James and John were his cousins.
Tradition claims that Jesus was related to yet another family. The husband of the “other Mary,” Clopas or Alphaeus, referred to at John 19:25, was supposedly the brother of Joseph. This would make another apostle, James the son of Alphaeus, a cousin of Jesus.—Matt. 10:3; 27:56, 61; Acts 1:13.
Whether tradition is correct or not, among those whom the Scriptures definitely identify as Jesus’ relatives there were men and women of outstanding faith and devotion. Their main objective was not to glorify themselves but to honor God. Their attitude was similar to that of Mary, when she said to Elizabeth: “My soul magnifies Jehovah, and my spirit cannot keep from being overjoyed at God my Savior; because he has looked upon the low position of his slave girl. For, look! from now on all generations will pronounce me happy; because the powerful One has done great deeds for me, and holy is his name; and for generations after generations his mercy is upon those who fear him. He has performed mightily with his arm, he has scattered abroad those who are haughty in the intention of their hearts. He has brought down men of power from thrones and exalted lowly ones; he has fully satisfied hungry ones with good things and he has sent away empty those who had wealth. He has come to the aid of Israel his servant, to call to mind mercy, just as he told to our forefathers, to Abraham and to his seed, forever.”—Luke 1:46-55.
Truly God’s choice of the family into which his Son was born reveals that heart appreciation for sacred things is of real value in his eyes. Are you developing such heart appreciation?
[Chart on page 221]
(For fully formatted text, see publication)
RELATIVES OF JESUS
TRIBE OF LEVI TRIBE OF JUDAH
Elizabeth’s Elizabeth’s Mary’s Heli Jacob Joseph’s
Father Mother Mother Mother
Zechariah Elizabeth Zebedee Salome Mary Joseph
John the James John JESUS James Joseph Simon
Baptist Judas (Jude)
(Listed are only those for which there is at least some [though not always conclusive] Scriptural support.)