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The Empty Chair
by Julie Michaelson
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Your mother and your brothers are standing outside,
desiring to see You. [Luke 8:20]
Time: The second day, after
the Crucifixion.
Place: Nazareth.
Characters: James, the brother of
Jesus, and Lena, his sister.
"James, it is up to you now."

James sighed. He was so exhausted
from the past few days, and now his
younger sister had intruded into
the carpenter's shed, where he
had spent the past week: working
continuously, and even sleeping there.
He was extremely shy, and was weary
of the neighbors coming to their house
to talk about their brother, and
all the shame he had brought on the
family. James didn't want to talk
to anyone about Jesus; he wished that
the ground could just swallow him
up: he was nauseous, and sick of all
the trouble and pain their oldest
brother had caused for their
once happy family: particularly
for their lovely mother.
"There's nothing I can do, Lena!
Please! Go back home to your
husband and cook him a decent
meal, for once!"

In spite of herself, Lena chuckled.
She and James had always been
at each other as children: teasing,
and mocking, and trying their parents'
enormous patience. Their elder brother
was the most thoughtful, kind, well-
behaved child of the whole family;
Lena and James, on the other hand
were both a menace: constantly getting
into scrapes of one sort or the other.
Now, of course, they were extremely
close: still teasing unmercifully.
"James! I'm being serious! You
need to stop hiding in this shed, and
face your responsibilities! You're the
oldest son now, and Mother needs you!"

"Oh, Lena! She doesn't need me!
She has that...that ragamuffin of
a fishman, as her new son! Didn't
you hear what Jesus said to him...
what the townspeople are saying...
while he was still dying?"

"Oh, James."
Lena sat down on the little wooden
stool, heavily. She was due with her
fourth baby, any day now, and this
one was going to be plump just like
his father. Her brother had been
joking, of course: Jonathan never
missed a meal....ever.

Four babies in six years of marriage:
all of their parents' children had
been well-blessed in their marriages.
All but Jesus; he had never married,
nor showed any interest in having
a family of his own. Lena felt another
stab of grief; her oldest brother
had been so kind, and gentle his
whole short life: never hurting a soul,
and never finding any true life for
"James...you know that Mother
loves you; John was simply a good
friend and confidant of our
brother's. He loved Jesus,
and loves our Mother. You
know that."

James hung his head, and
began to sob: a man who never
cried in front of anyone. The
smell of wood shavings came
to his nostrils, and it reminded
him of the shared laughter
between his older brother and
their beloved father: long ago,
in this carpenters' shed. The
two of them would sit quietly:
working for hours to provide
for their family, and never
asked a thing of anyone. Everyone
loved Joseph, and respected
Jesus greatly...until he began
to go about preaching, and
making strange assertions about
himself to the townspeople,
and the surrounding countryside.
But the early days...when
the family was young, and
their parents were busy and
happy...were full of the smells
of this carpenters' shed. James
sobbed: his strong shoulders
shaking convulsively.

"Shhhh, James!"
Lena picked up an edge of
her big apron, and touched
it against her brother's wet
cheek. Her back ached from
sitting on the little chair, but
her brother's grief was more
important than her own maternal
discomfort. Lena grimaced
silently; she would need help
getting up from this carpenter
stool: that was for sure.
"Shhhh, James! It is time
for you to stop hiding, and
come back to your family!
Everyone is concerned about
you! Don't worry about
what the town is saying...
just consider your wife, and
children, and mother, now!
And...our brothers, and sisters!"

James buried his face in his
hands; their family used to
be so close, and so happy...
before Jesus left to go out
on this strange preaching mission
of his. Now their family was
torn apart; two of the brothers
weren't speaking to one another,
and their youngest sister had
moved away: going to live with
one of their relatives north
of Jerusalem; Joannah was of marrying
age, and none of the young
men in Nazareth wanted to
take her for a wife, saying
she was the sister of 'that
strange Jesus the carpenter's

James wiped his eyes clumsily
with the back of his work-
roughened hand. He sighed;
hopefully Joannah would find
a good husband in their relatives'
town: away from all this horror,
and grief. He spoke suddenly.
"We need to pray for Joannah,
Lenie. We need to pray
for her: that she will find
some peace, and a husband to
care for her..."

"James! Yes! Yes!
But first we must pray for
Mother! She needs us now,
James! She needs you! We
all need you!"

James wiped his eyes again,
and then stood up: reaching
out both hands to his hugely
pregnant sister. He smiled.
"Let's go. It's almost time
for supper, and suddenly I
am quite hungry."

Lena struggled to get up from
the little wooden stool; she
felt that the new baby would
arrive in the next few days:
a strange event to be happening
amidst all of this horror, and
grief. A new life in the midst
of her brother's terrible,
shameful death. If this one
was another son, she wanted
to name him Jesus but her
husband's family would never
hear of it...she knew.
"You need to go visit Mother,
James. Tomorrow...at first
light; you need to go to Jerusalem,
and to John's house...and
comfort her. You know it is
what Jesus would want."

James made a sudden rueful
face; his eyes were shadowed
with puzzlement, as well as
"To be honest, Lena...I don't
honestly know what Jesus would
want. He became a stranger
to me in the last three years;
I barely knew him, at all."

James turned for a moment
to gaze back at the carpenters' chair.
It was the chair of a poor,
humble man, and now it was

It was like the empty chair
that they always set out at
Passover: waiting for the return of
Elijah, who would arrive one
day to announce the coming of the

James' eyes became rueful
again, and he shook his head

"What is it, James?"
Lena had stopped also, and
turned back: looking
with concern at her now oldest

James shook his head, and
turned back toward the path;
he put out a hand to steady
his gainfully awkward sister.
He smiled at her.
"I was just thinking of Elijah's

Lena chuckled, and looked
up at her brother; both of
them were remembering all
the Passover dinners with their
beloved mother, father, and
oldest brother.
"Ah! Waiting for the Messiah!"

James nodded; he felt
oddly comforted in this moment:
as if his brother was alive,
and was putting a loving arm around
his shoulders. For a moment,
the three of them were little
children again: scrambling up
the path to dinner, and laughing
together happily. James'
voice broke, and hot tears
ran unabashedly down his face.
He whispered.
"Waiting for the Messiah."
My mother and My brothers
are those who hear the
word of God, and do it.
[Luke 8:21]

Copyright 2014.

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