My Brother in Galilee

I had a fearsome dream—I saw my friend —
My teacher-brother—nailed onto a cross.
I wept with sorrow at my brother’s feet.
He said his mother henceforth would be mine.
Unearthly lightning blazed across the land.
I gasped and woke, my blanket cold with sweat.
What does it mean? I do not understand.

Perhaps it’s nothing. It was just a dream.
It’s morning now. The sun is bright. He’s fine.
I fondly watch my friend, my teacher-brother
Give thanks, eat breakfast, then stare at the clouds.
He bids me sit. He smiles the hope I seek.
He offers me warm bread. We rise and pray
Before the crowds return to hear him speak.

I love to hear him laugh. His cup is full.
His eyes bear wisdom, honor, steadfast peace.
He quotes the Scriptures freely; then he grins
To watch the antics of the hoopoe bird.
He’s fond of wine and fish fresh from the net.
He beams at children; does not suffer fools.
He’s more alive than any man I’ve met.

I think of what he did at last week’s wedding
Where he was welcomed as a kinsman’s guest.
His miracle of water turned to wine
Was unforgettable, beyond my ken.
But I will long recall one other thing:
How first he was aloof but by night’s end
Danced with the joy that only faith can bring.

He sometimes takes my hand. I see strange things:
The future through a glass as dark as night.
Sharp thorns are in his hair, scars in his palms.
I close my eyes to shake this vision off.
He sees my pain. “A psalm!” he says. “Let’s raise
Our voices up and offer humble thanks.
My Father’s works are worthy of our praise!”

Last week he bid me join him up the hill.
From there we watched men fishing on the lake.
He touched my arm and said “You must have faith.
The time will come when we shall never part.”
His voice grew soft as he gazed at a tree—
He seemed to brood. His words seemed sad and strange:
“My tree shall lead you to eternity.”

I could not halt my tears. What is to come?
He has so much to teach and love to give.
These quiet, private moments which we share
Are things I think he wants me to recall.
He says that soon he’ll go where I can’t follow;
And though I grieve, our Father understands
And values tears more than a heart that’s hollow.



Brian Yapko is a lawyer who also writes poetry. He lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

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38 Responses

    • Brian A. Yapko

      Thank you very much, Al. I very much enjoyed reading your own work from 2018. I don’t know Jay and Barb. At that point, it may be too late for an introduction as I’m moving from Santa Fe to Florida in only three weeks!

  1. Monika Cooper

    Very beautiful reflection on discipleship. I especially loved the detail of Jesus, the Son of David, dancing at the wedding of Cana. His loved ones do get to see something more than is given in the words of the Gospel now and then. Thank you for sharing these glimpses from your apocrypha. A treasure!

    • Brian A. Yapko

      Thank you so much, Monika! I am so pleased that you liked Jesus dancing at the wedding! When writing this I wanted to have Christ viewed through the eyes of a beloved friend getting to know Him. Thus it seemed to me that seeing Christ “loosen up” as it were might have really moved the friend. That’s why I have him say he would long recall it — perhaps more than the miracle itself!

  2. Susan Jarvis Bryant

    Brian this beautifully written poem, with finely crafted lines that flow smoothly and seemingly effortlessly, sings with the glory of God from a perspective that allows me to see the wonder of His Son through very human eyes. To me, those eyes are the eyes of John… but… maybe not… such is the depth of this poem.

    For me, the present-tense immediacy; the awe-of-the-moment impact; the hints of things to come, when the enormity of the events is already known (very clever) all serve to tell the story of the deep faith that leads to eternal life in a powerful and relatable way.

    The words that I will carry away from this superb poem are: “What is to come?/ He has so much to teach and love to give.” Those words still stand. This world is sinful and brutal… but He really does have “so much to teach and love to give” if only we look in His direction. Your poem makes me yearn to look more closely, trust ever deeply, and to give and receive love with the joy of the Lord in my heart. Brian, this is one of your finest. Thank you!

    • Brian A. Yapko

      Susan, I am absolutely thrilled that you liked this poem and that it has inspired you in your relationship with God. As a poet I could ask for nothing more! Yes, the speaker here is John, though I wanted it written in such a way that anyone who loved Him might be the speaker. The ambiguity is intentional as I am trying to present in poetry the relatable possibility of anyone having a personal relationship with Jesus. That is also the reason for the present-tense immediacy… I very much wanted to present the possibilities of what it might be like to have a personal Christ in one’s life… to show that it’s not all about a suffering figure on the cross or the lessons we must learn from the parables, but that it’s also about “these quiet, private moments…”
      Jesus has (present tense) both a divine and human nature. I wondered why I had never before pictured Him laughing or grinning or enjoying the taste of a good meal. And I wondered what it would be like to have Him as a beloved friend. Hence the genesis of this poem.

      A housekeeping note while I think of it: I refer to Him here with an upper-case “H” as is proper. In the poem I resisted having the speaker refer to Him that way not out of disrespect, but because John does not yet know the true, full nature of Jesus.

      We also see John in a place of spiritual uncertainty and growth, as reflected by blank verse — but we also see how increasing faith influences his thinking so that only the third-to-last line and last line of each verse ends with a rhyme. I can well imagine that by the time of the actual Crucifixion and Resurrection, John’s thinking and faith will be fully developed. If I were to write it, I would then depict that mature John with a fully rhymed poem.

  3. Gigi Ryan

    This is beautiful. Thank you. Christianity is often mistaken for bunch of rules, but this poem depicts the reality of Christianity – an intimate relationship.

    • Brian A. Yapko

      Yes!! Thank you! Gigi you understand precisely what I was aiming for — an intimate relationship with Jesus and what that might look like. The laws and rules exist (we see Jesus say grace, we see Him and John rise for morning prayers) but they are details only in a world where love and grace already permeate everything. And in the case of this poem, friendship is a large part of that love. Implicit here is that if one can be friends with the Son of God, one can aspire to also be friends with fellow humans. Anyone has the potential to be a brother or a sister. Thank you for reading and for the kind words!

  4. David Hollywood

    This is marvelous poetry. For me it portrays the imagery is of a disciple offering descriptive thanks in an almost prayer like dedication. Excellent, and thank you.

  5. jd

    I would love to be the author of this beautiful poem, Brian. You have truly captured His humanity. I know He must be pleased with your effort on His behalf, using His precious gifts.

    • Brian A. Yapko

      This is such a beautiful comment, jd. I can think of no greater compliment. Thank you. Each day I pray that I live my life (including my writing) in such a way that when the time comes, He might say “well done, good and faithful servant.” There is nothing on Earth I want more than this.

  6. Roy Eugene Peterson

    Brian, your masterful poetry sings with emotions and deeply set religious values that come alive with your telling of relationships, whether through the eyes of the actual brother, or a representational one such as an apostle. The wedding feast at Cana and the enjoyment of fish by the Sea of Galilee are the good times shared with which we all can identify, and then comes the foreshadowing of the end of an earthly mission that haunts our souls. Your skillful poetry places you in the top echelon of classical poets along with the others I admire so much. Bless you for your inspired verses.

    • Brian A. Yapko

      Roy, I’m speechless from this generous comment. Thank you! Emotion and religious values can and should go hand-in-hand and I’m glad you see that. As I confirmed above, the relationship here is indeed between Jesus and John, the apostle whom Jesus loved, but John is also representational as you point out. John stands in here for anyone who seeks a closer relationship with God, and this is why I spotlight the human, relatable moments between them rather than the miracles and the exposition of law and lessons. That is why I emphasize “brother” and “friend” rather than “rabbi” or “master.”

  7. Phil L. Flott

    I was so struck by reading this poem. Though I know the story, I was spell-bound in the narration of it. It was so compelling a read I didn’t bother to examine the mechanics of the writing until after I had read it through. Priceless.

    • Brian A. Yapko

      Thank you very much indeed, Phil! I’m honored by this beautiful comment!

  8. Joseph S. Salemi

    Expertly done, and also moving without being sentimental. There’s just a sparse use of rhyme, which is the right choice for a poem on this subject.

    The speaker is definitely the young disciple John, as indicated by the first stanza where he dreams that Christ will entrust His mother to him when He is on the cross. Another nice detail — the mention in the third stanza that Jesus was fond of wine. This was a charge brought against Him by opponents, but here Brian accepts it as a sign of His humanity and cameraderie.

    And yes — the scripture says that He was somewhat aloof at first at the wedding feast at Cana, and impatient with His mother’s mention of the lack of wine. But He quickly relents, changes water to wine, and joins the celebration.

    I have always marveled that evangelical prohibitionists manage to ignore these events in the gospels (along with His use of wine at the Last Supper, and His reference to “new wine in old bottles”) and claim a religious sanction for forbidding alcoholic drink.

    The offer of warm bread to the speaker in the second stanza completes the circle, and we have a typology of the Eucharistic gift.

    • Brian A. Yapko

      Thank you very much, Joe. As I explain in a prior comment, the poem is in unrhymed blank verse except for the 5th and 7th lines of each stanza. My reasoning is that John’s faith and thinking are becoming clarified and intensified through his contact with Jesus. If I were writing a poem about John as he might be after the Crucifixion and Resurrection, his growth would be complete and my poem depicting his thought processes would be in full rhyme.

      You are exactly right about my view on Christ’s use of alcohol. It is to highlight His humanity and sense of cameraderie, but as you note with the sharing of bread, this is also a foreshadowing of the Eucharist. I hoped for his fondness of wine to connect to the sentence “His cup is full” for that relates fairly explicitly to the words in Psalm 23 “My cup runneth over.” This seemed to me a particularly happy connection since Jesus is that very psalm’s author’s descendent.

      I too find the injunction against wine in some Protestant denominations to be contrary to the clear language of the Bible. I have not researched this, but I can readily infer infer that this is the result of a Puritanical interpretation of Scripture. I’ve never seen this shunning of alcohol in the Jewish synagogue. In my Protestant church experience, I’ve only encountered this shunning of alcohol in the Methodist church. I’ve never seen it in the Lutheran or Episcopal churches.

    • Brian A. Yapko

      Thank you so much, Rohini. I’m so glad you were led to that “sea of tears.” I confess to having shed a tear or two when I wrote that last stanza. I’m glad others experienced that same reaction.

  9. Margaret Coats

    This is a superb devotional poem on multiple levels. Explicitly, it’s John speaking of Jesus, but the title immediately begs the question, why would John call Him “my brother in Galilee”? Doesn’t John go with Jesus through places other than Galilee? Aren’t the two together throughout the poem? In the final stanza anticipating the Passion, they are in Judea. It is after the Last Supper that Jesus says, “I go where you cannot follow.” John’s gospel is the only one to record this, and it is said to Peter. But maybe Jesus said the same thing earlier to John personally, on that hill which may have been the mount of the Transfiguration, though John in this poem’s discourse seems to say they were there for private time and the view of the sea.

    “My Brother in Galilee” with John as speaker must mean “my Brother the way He was in Galilee.” They have moved on. Or “My Brother in Galilee” by Brian Yapko means Brian’s brother–Jesus or John or both. One or both may be the reader’s brother described by the poet. The distinction is not clear, which enables readers easily to enter and personalize the thought.

    This is a poem detailing the development of love from admiration. John the speaker describes much of what impresses and fascinates him about Jesus. But there is also the unique personal preference attracting Jesus to John, who is known as “the Beloved Disciple.” This is part of close friendship, the kind of friendship that wants to know and understand and anticipate everything about a beloved friend, and wants the friendship to last forever.

    The dream of the first stanza characterizes this type of friendship, and it is a true dream sent from God, because the events dreamed come to pass. Lightning is associated by Matthew with the earthquake of the Resurrection, and Luke says the Son of Man in His day will be like lightning from heaven. In the fifth stanza there is an allusion to Saint Paul’s words when John sees future things “through a glass darkly.”

    The hoopoe is a special touch. It was recently voted the national bird of Israel–a faithful, territorial, fiercely protective and yet healing creature.

    The time scheme of the poem is complex, with Cana and Jesus’ first miracle happening just last week, yet the Passion and Resurrection anticipated.

    Overall, the seven stanzas of seven lines each form perfection squared. “Be perfect, as your Father in heaven is perfect.” A sort of sermon on the Mount!

    • Brian A. Yapko

      Thank you for this very detailed and thoughtful comment, Margaret. I’m so pleased that you like the poem. You bring up so many interesting points starting with the title.

      I have set the poem in Galilee but with a substantial amount of vision and prophecy which may indeed make the timeline seem somewhat more complex than it actually is. If this were a movie, the cinematic technique would be described as a “flash-forward.” I’ve mentioned in a comment above, the identity of the speaker is indeed the apostle, John, who is the apostle Jesus loved. Why is he “brother?” Because 1) Jesus is his contemporary and would not have been perceived as a father figure; 2) “Brother” is a way of describing a friend or a fellow member of a congregation (church, here, would be too early, but they are nonetheless fellow worshipers, even if Jesus is also John’s rabbi.); 3) From the cross, Jesus tells John that Mary that John is henceforth her son and he tells John that Mary is henceforth John’s mother; that very explicitly makes John the brother (at least spiritually) of Christ.

      As for their being in Galilee, that is the setting of the piece, but with foreshadowings of where things are going as in that dream which you analyze; you also appreciate the reference to 1 Corinthians where Paul “sees through a glass darkly.” I wanted the setting to be early in Christ’s ministry, shortly after His first miracle, perhaps at the time of the Beatitudes (which mount does overlook the Sea of Galilee.) Along these lines, I wanted the reference to the men fishing which might well be connected to the idea of “fishers of men.”

      Given the way I tried to fill in blanks, I did feel justified in having a conversation with John in which Christ mentioned that He was going where John could not follow. Again, echoes and foreshadowings rather than a literal restatement of the Gospels.

      I’m so glad you picked up on the numerology of the piece! My poetic forms rarely have numerological significance but in this intimate portrayal of Christ I did indeed want to maximize my use of the perfect number, seven, which represents the number of days it took for God to create the Earth and then to rest.

      One other thing: I wanted very much to describe an intimate relationship with Jesus Christ with a special focus on His humanity. John as the beloved apostle seemed like the perfect speaker for such a work. But even more, John’s Gospel is quite different from the synoptic Gospels – it is more metaphysical, more connected to the unseen. I wanted to see what type of man this Gospel writer started out as. Matthew, for example, seems like a pragmatic writer. But it is John who talks about the Word becoming flesh the beginning of Christ’s story, the only Gospel author who thinks to quote what I consider the most important words in the Gospels: “I am the resurrection and the life…”

      Thank you again for your appreciation and your detailed analysis, Margaret.

  10. Stephen Binns

    Beautifully imagined. Nice that the beloved Apostle is only obliquely identified.

    Was there laughter unrecorded by the Gospels? Surely it was there to be heard in the jostling of the children the others tried to chase away. “Can any good thing come from Nazareth?” has the feel of a joke, rather along the lines of something like “Can any good thing come from El Segundo?”

    In Acts there is the structure of a joke. Paul and his companion so impress the Greeks in their pleas against paganism that they return to offer sacrifice to them as Zeus and Hermes.

    Was there dancing more joyful than that in Herod’s palace? Surely so.

    • Brian A. Yapko

      Thank you very much, Stephen! The subject of humor in the Gospels is a really interesting one. I like the wry “Nazareth” dig at Christ’s hometown. And that incident in Acts does seem susceptible to a humorous interpretation. But for the most part, the Gospels and the rest of the New Testament can seem quite serious. There is singing and wine-drinking, true. But much of the New Testament it is either highly philosophical, deeply earnest or tragic. There is much triumph as well which warrant exaltation, but there are few incidents in which we can imagine Jesus grinning or simply laughing. And yet He had a human nature — it must have happened! And so I invented His delight at the hoopoe bird and his spirited dancing. That dancing reference, incidentally, has as its basis King David, who danced before the Ark of the Covenant when it was finally brought to Jerusalem. It seemed to me that Jesus, as David’s descendent, would be amenable to the same form of worship. I like to envision Jesus dancing as an expression of joy in His love of God, His Father. In contrast, I think any dancing at Herod’s palace would have been debauched and earthbound.

  11. Yael

    This is a beautiful poem and very inspiring, I love it, thank you! It is like an illustration of Luke 10:27 “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself.” Jesus came to show us how it’s done.

    • Brian A. Yapko

      Thank you very much, Yael! I especially love your reference to Luke 10:27 and am glad that my poem reminded you of this hugely important passage.

  12. Joshua C. Frank

    What a beautiful poem! I love how it shows Jesus’s humanity. My tendency is to see Him as only divine (something like the Greek gods, but kinder); I know He is also fully human, but it’s hard to wrap my mind around that. This poem offers a much-needed glimpse.

    My favorite line is, “The time will come when we shall never part.” My eyes stung reading that one!

    • Brian A. Yapko

      Thank you very much indeed, Josh! I’m so glad you found it beautiful. I fully understand about seeing Jesus as only divine and an authority figure. But what really drew me into Christianity was His human nature. I think one of the reasons we love Christmas so much is because of the human story of Joseph, Mary and the newborn Jesus. He may be the incarnation of God, but He is still a vulnerable little baby in a manger and we worry for Him. That is the side to Him which captures my heart.

      The shortest sentence in the entire Bible is: “Jesus wept.” That is His humanity being described in a nutshell. I believe Jesus had a fully rounded human nature — as my speaker puts it without realizing the understatement of what he’s saying… that “He’s more alive than any man I’ve met.” It was very important for me to try to capture that “aliveness.” What an amazing thing His advent was! In a world theologically dominated by law, detached philosophy and ritual sacrifices, the sudden appearance of Christ and His very human, demonstrably loving nature made (and makes) all the difference.

  13. Shamik Banerjee

    The events, His words, gestures, and movements were unfolding before my eyes as I coursed through your soft-paced poem, Brian. Everything felt so alive, and you have penned each instant of a teacher-student relationship so vividly. The miracle of water turning into wine is my favourite, and I felt the part where you say, ‘He’s more alive than any man I’ve met’. I can revisit this beautiful poem again and again. Thank you so much for sharing, Brian.

    • Brian A. Yapko

      Thank you so much for this generous comment, Shamik. I’m particularly pleased that you liked the line “He’s more alive than any man I’ve met” because that’s one of my favorites too. John is drawn to Jesus but it’s still early in his discipleship and he’s trying to figure out why he’s so drawn to this teacher.

  14. Sally Cook

    Dear Brian –

    By the time I found this poem, I thought almost everything that could be said about Jesus, seemed to have have already been said. So I will just say that you bring Jesus to life in such a beautiful way and I will not soon forget it. Thank you.

    • Brian A. Yapko

      Thank you so very much, Sally, for this beautiful comment! Jesus is so meaningful to me that I just have to keep writing about Him!

  15. C.B. Anderson

    I envy the time you got to spend with the Word Incarnate while writing this poem. I need to remind myself that such interludes are free for the taking. Where will you go next? I wonder

    • Brian A. Yapko

      Thank you, C.B. That time I’ve spent with the Word Incarnate… I’ve never enjoyed writing a poem more!

  16. Alena Casey

    This is a really lovely poem, Brian. I’ve noticed that today, Christians rarely have trouble accepting Jesus’ divine nature, but have more trouble understanding His human nature (whereas in the early Church, the opposite was true). These reflections on His humanity, on the real relationships He had with individuals, on the specific partaking in human events such as meals and weddings, are inexpressibly valuable. Thank you!

    • Brian A. Yapko

      Thank you so much, Alena, for reading and commenting. I’m very pleased that you enjoyed this poem. I found great joy in writing it and imagining what it might have been like to be able to call Jesus my close friend 2000 years ago. And by imagining that friendship with Him from so long ago, it has made it easier for me in my prayers and meditations to spend time with Him here and now. I think it is His humanity that makes His love so tangible and relatable.


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