Jesus started his ministry in Capernaum beside the lake called the Sea of Galilee. First he called four fishermen who were brothers and cousins of each other. Later he called a diverse bunch of other disciples to make up the twelve. He starts to teach the people on the shores of the lake, and soon there are so many people that Jesus has to get into a boat as a platform from which to preach. All the crowds following him line the shores of the lake.
After this Jesus and the twelve start to go on mission all around Galilee, where Jesus teaches the people by use of parables and explains things in greater depth to his disciples. Many people come to him for healing. By the time they return to Capernaum, there are so many people pressing around Jesus’ house that you can’t get either in or out of the house. It was getting really hectic.
Just at the time when Jesus’ ministry was really taking off, Joseph died of old age. Jesus had started his ministry aged about 30, and Joseph by then was aged 80 so he died of natural causes. Jesus’ brothers, being older than him, had always been quite bossy. In fact, he went to Capernaum away from the synagogue in Nazareth partly to get away from them, and their always knowing best and telling him what to do.
So Jesus’ elder brother and the others came to his house in Capernaum with Mary to say that Joseph had died, and he’d have to go back to Nazareth to assume his responsibilities towards the family. They were unable to get anywhere near the house because of the crowds. Then they heard Jesus call out, who are my mother, my brothers and my sisters? The crowd thought they’d be sent away because family always comes first. But Jesus said, you who hear God’s word and put it into practice are my mother, brothers and sisters.
Mary had infinite patience, but Jesus’ brothers were irritated. They said, you’ve got to drop this crazy mission and come back to Nazareth to look after Mary, your mother, and be a carpenter again.
So Jesus did what they asked; he did go to his home town with his disciples, and he stood up in the synagogue to preach. He preached with such wisdom, the people said, isn’t this the carpenter’s son? The son of Mary? We know his brothers and his sisters. They kicked him out of the synagogue, jeering at him.
Jesus wisely returns to Capernaum. He’s registered here for Temple Tax, but has no money to pay it. Simon (Peter) also has no money. Miraculously a fish coughs up a four drachma coin they use to pay the tax for both households.
Each year Jesus’ family went to Jerusalem for the Feast of the Passover. He’s done this his entire life. Jesus’ brothers like to keep things in order and tell Jesus that he should go with them. Jesus replies to them that the time is not right. They goad him saying, if you want to be famous and get known, you need to go to Jerusalem and show yourself to the world. What’s the point of only doing stuff among us? Jesus says, for you any time is the right time, no one is going to make attempts on your life – sounds a bit harsh, but true. The greater the healing miracles performed by Jesus, the greater the threat to his own life.
Jesus does go to Jerusalem, but in secret, then returns to Galilee where he can move about with his disciples freely. Mary goes about the place in the company of Jesus’ brothers. She probably lived with them and their families, and with his sisters as a woman would not live alone after her husband died. Though, technically speaking Mary belonged to Jesus’ household after Joseph died and was his responsibility.
Mary’s relationship to Jesus’ brothers is important in forming the early church. Despite an unpromising start in some ways, and some family tensions, it is the four brothers who will administer the early church in Jerusalem in the company of Mary. Mary was the family bond of the church of Jerusalem.