Brotherly and sisterly love: Jesus and siblings

The popular song ‘He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother’ confirs the claim of the Bible that “a brother is born for adversity” (Proverbs 17;17).

But the Bible is such an honest mirror of human life that it records the other truth, that brothers are often rivals rather than friends.

The book of Genesis records the struggle between twins Jacob and Esau. Long before Jacob tricked Esau out of his birthright, and then robbed him of his father’s blessing ( Genesis chapters 25 and 27), we are told that they were rivals even in Rebekah’s womb. “The babies jostled each other within her”, runs the New International Version of Genesis 25; 22, where the Hebrew literally means they “smashed themselves within her”. Nor is it confined to brothers. The writer Linda Sunshine once observed: “If you don’t understand how a woman could both love her sister dearly and want to wring her neck at the same time, then you have probably been an only child.”

The successful writers Margaret Drabble and A.S. Byatt are sisters, but barely speak, hating each other with a perfect hatred.

Jesus redefined sibling relationships. Once, when he was told that his mother and brothers were outside looking for him, he looked at those around him and said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother” (Mark 3; 31-34).

That sense of spiritual relationship was wonderfully displayed when news came that Saul, the arch persecutor, had been converted. Instead of approaching him with fear, Ananias greeted him as ‘Brother Saul’. (Acts 9; 17).

Human brotherhood and spiritual brotherhood are wonderfully illustrated in the relationship of Andrew and Simon Peter. Andrew had heard the testimony of John the Baptist concerning Jesus, ‘Behold the Lamb of God., and had himself become a follower of Jesus. We then read : “The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother Simon and tell him, ‘We have found the Messiah’ “(John 1; 41). When Archbishop William Temple wrote his famous ‘Readings in John’s Gospel’, he noted that Andrew had gone to find his brother , and wrote, ‘ perhaps it is as great a service to the church as ever any man did’.

Have you, gentler reader, rendered that service to your brother?