You could say that Jesus had a thing for siblings. He could have picked anyone he wanted. However, Jesus considered that more than half of the formation for all further Christian leadership relied upon brothers. Siblings were a secret sauce in Jesus’ founders.
We begin with our blood brothers and sisters, or with those from a purely spiritual brotherhood. Soon, there is no difference. We end up in a divine and bodily kinship with Jesus.
Image by Barbara
By John Pearring
Just underneath the announcement of Jesus picking twelve apostles sits a fascinating selection of siblings. Half of the leaders included in the birth of Christianity were related.
The curious coincidence of so many brother pairs becomes spectacular when you add, according to some commentators on the scripture, that Matthew might also be a brother of James and Jude. Of the twelve apostles, at least six, and maybe seven, were biological brothers.
You could say that Jesus had a thing for siblings. He could have picked anyone he wanted. However, Jesus considered that more than half of the formation for all further Christian leadership relied upon brothers. Siblings were a secret sauce in Jesus’ founders. All corporate beginnings are fascinating, and studies regarding the critical development of human relationships in this divine gathering find siblings most curious.
The apostles were the genesis of a cosmic, spiritual expansion of the Jewish tribal structure. That’s how Christians view the conciliar Body of Christ, anyway. Gentiles grafted into Jewish history, literally every human being into one indwelled, physical conglomeration. A shift of the geographic temple into Christ-follower temple vessels went to the four corners of the earth. The apostles began the framework for our legacy, the stewardship of everything Christian.
Jesus’ vetting process, recruiting model, and intentional design made half of the apostolic membership siblings.
Issues arise from God’s plan to begin the Kingdom presence of Jesus and the Holy Spirit’s foundation. His gathering of a dozen men set us all up. In our modern parlance and scrutiny, siblings are only one exciting tidbit.
There’s a short list of controversies. First, this noted importance of Jesus using so many blood relatives as apostles. Second, based on the scriptural importance of his relatives, why didn’t Jesus include his close relatives, like his cousin James? He ended up as the leader of Jerusalem’s Christians, after all. And third, we wonder about Jesus’ seeming disregard in selecting women.
I’m unable to address the second and third issues here adequately. Not enough runway. I bring them up because they are curious and problematic. I’ll make some seemingly unfair assumptions. His family had celebrity status, certainly something that could become a later issue. Women received considerable attention from Jesus, and the natural inclination of men as outward-facing, public figures, was matched by influential women and married couples throughout the early Church. And, so, I’ll punt the rest of those issues away for this reflection.
There is a unique spiritual thing about Jesus and his relationship with Mary for Christians to understand. No one can be compared to the virgin-without-sin who carried Jesus and has been granted the names Mother of Jesus and Queen of Heaven. Who has appeared over every century to children and humble adults to evangelize and inspire the world, as has Mary? There’s a female, feminine exceptionalism in that woman that graces all women. In a world that has always considered females servants to the family and the Church, the servanthood of men in the Church gets its due through a holy reality of genders and our God. OK, I caught my own punt, but I’m kneeling here and walking off the field.
I have two brothers, Michael and James. Those are influential Christian names. We are indeed a thunderous trio, both opinionated and overpowering. As the oldest, I carry the added features of being annoying and intimidating. My sisters communicate among themselves in a mystical fashion that miraculously prepared Mike, J.D., and me for marriage. We didn't know then what we don't know now, but we recognize the unexplainable awesomeness of women because of our siblings.
I believe the male-centered decision by Jesus in his hand-picked brotherhood of apostles had to do with gender in the same way that his particular incarnation had to do with the choice of a male gender for Christ. Sisters and brothers generate a wide range of relationship challenges. Martha and Mary, two sisters who show up at divinely opportune moments in scripture, balance the problem of gender preference in Jesus' purview. That’s not the point, though. Jesus grasped the intensity of sibling relationships. He factored that unity and conflict of siblings into building teams of preachers, teachers, prophets, evangelists, and apologists.
God does what God wants to do. No matter how much we question what he does or delve into an agenda-based analysis, God is still God. That’s the stuff of Matthew 16:1-4:
Jesus summoned his Twelve disciples
and gave them authority over unclean spirits to drive them out
and to cure every disease and every illness.
The names of the Twelve Apostles are these:
first, Simon called Peter, and his brother Andrew;
James, the son of Zebedee, and his brother John;
Philip and Bartholomew,
Thomas and Matthew the tax collector;
James, the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddeus;
Simon the Cananean, and Judas Iscariot
who betrayed Jesus.
None of these men summoned themselves or renamed themselves, nor did they have the authority to do any of the awesome apostolic things until their calling. They could not have imagined what would happen to them.
Some of us wonder what the folks left out of the divinely chosen dozen thought about being overlooked. Then, we read about 72 of them being missioned. That's a significant bit right there. Jesus operates on the particulars of “now.” Wait for your time, and when called, we should then "Go."
Not everyone needs a prodding spiritually under the genetically bound Christ-following sibling. God knows, it seems, that at least half of us do. I am one of those. My brothers are the initial, progressive, and ultimate reason for my faith and ministries to witness and testify. My sisters have been urgent, challenging, and inquisitive in my growth. I know this intimately. It’s not the way all Christians are called. I kind of like the idea that half of us are, though.
Siblings are constant recognition that we need faith partnerships. They helped me to recognize the faith-filled brother and sister-relationships that God provides. Among the apostles, before the Holy Spirit had come upon them, the alignments of these men had previously been cemented by their many sibling experiences.
Sibling penchants for argument, competition, stubbornness, anger, and fear won’t remain hidden. The sensitivity of brothers or sisters insists upon addressing conflict, no matter the pain and angst, and potential dissolution. In many cases, the insistence is too much to bear. We break off ties, sometimes for decades. Sometimes forever. The Body of Christ could begin no differently, and its in-fighting and the ultimate requirement for forgiveness and unconditional love were crucial.
Though much can be confusing and controversial about Jesus’ concentration on men in the initial apostolic circle, there is no confusion regarding his overwhelming number of relationships with men and women at every level.
His constant inclusion eliminated every difference in the population regarding God's love and grace. That reflects the stuff of sibling rivalries gone bad and God healing them. Jesus recognized differences in gender, nationality, religion, marital status, social status, title, and economic success.
Jesus did not overstate the advantage of being offered the gift of eternal life from siblings. His concentration constantly returned to regarding both the individual and the communal benefits of our relationship with God. Our personal and gathered mission to serve each other applies to everyone. We all live out our lives for the glory of God.
First, there had to be twelve. Then 72. Then 500 were baptized in one day. Next were martyrs beyond counting. For 2000 years, Christian fellowship has followed the God-involved pattern of growth that has no limit. We begin with our blood brothers and sisters or those from a purely spiritual brotherhood. Soon, there is no difference is under the watchful Holy Spirit and the pleasure of the Father. We end up in a divine and bodily kinship with Jesus.