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Nothing happens by chance in God’s economy. Free will and divine intervention do not cancel each other out. So it wasn’t just “blind luck” that Jesus was born and raised a carpenter’s son. As his followers, we tend to focus on Jesus as Lord, teacher, Messiah, and Son of God, but before he was all those, he was the son of a carpenter who then grew to become a carpenter in his own right, with all the skills, aptitudes, and duties that come with it.
So I got to thinking about Jesus the son of a carpenter and Jesus the carpenter. Because his father was a carpenter and he the family’s first-born son, Jesus would have been expected to carry on his father’s trade. That meant that Jesus would have grown up trailing around behind his father doing carpentry work. Jesus’ first memories probably involved carpentry, either while the family was still in Egypt or back in Nazareth.
I’m not a carpenter, so to get a better idea of what a carpenter does, I looked up the job description for carpenter online. I was surprised to see that it emphasizes math skills. You need to be good at math and calculations to do carpentry work. You also need to be able to read blueprints and take instruction from supervisors on job specifications, so you need a good memory and the ability to “see” what is not yet there based on someone else’s description and guidance. Carpentry is an intensely physical job. You need to be physically strong, but not like an ox, more like a lion, as carpenters need to crouch, bend, kneel, and stretch, and have good upper-body strength. As well, carpentry requires good hand-eye coordination, the ability to gauge and estimate measurements, and a good sense of balance, with no vertigo tendencies.
Reading about these skills and aptitudes opened up a whole new “Jesus window” for me. Jesus was not only spiritually strong, he was physically strong. He had good upper body strength along with good strong legs that enabled him to carry and place heavy loads and stand for hours while doing his work. He had good hand-eye coordination, good visual acuity, and good balance, like an athlete. He could reckon measurements with his eyes and then translate those measurements into form. His hands would have been calloused, but strong and nimble. How do I know all these things about Jesus? If he hadn’t had those skills and traits, he wouldn’t have been a carpenter.
This was not a weak man. This was not an effeminate man. Jesus was not born the son of a carpenter by chance, but by design. The skills he learned at his father’s side from the time he was old enough to remember were skills that he eventually transferred to his ministry work. Ministry also requires a strong and agile body along with strong faith. Ministry also requires a sharp mind with good reckoning and gauging skills and the ability to see what is not in front of your eyes. And ministry also requires the unwavering ability to take instruction and guidance from God the Ultimate Supervisor, and to ensure a foundation is strong and true before it is built on.
So after I looked up all the traits and skills that are required of a carpenter, I thought about Jesus the Son of God and what he would have brought to the carpentry trade. I thought about how hard he worked at his ministry, often not even stopping for meals or rest, and how everything he did was uncompromising and done to his best ability. I thought about how he was always ministering to the needs of others and spent his nights and days helping whoever came to him for help. I thought about his sharp wit (sharp enough to outwit even the temple elders) and his love for children. I thought about his fondness for wine and good food. I thought about his gentleness and respect towards women, and how he defended them over and over again, whether before a mob or his own disciples. I thought about how he consistently championed the honest and the lowly over the hypocritical and the rich.
And I took all these qualities and traits and fondnesses of Jesus the Son of God and applied them to his carpentry work. And I thought – Oh, to have just one piece that was created by Jesus! It would have been made with such love and to perfection! There would have been no flaws in it, no cut corners. The foundation would have been true, the joints smooth, and the finish like glass. He would have formed it with the same care and meticulousness as if he were making it for God, because that’s how Jesus was, whether as the son of a carpenter or the Son of God: He did everything as if unto God. And he would always have finished his work on time and to specification.
I thought of all the pieces he possibly made – the cups, the plates, the platters, the bowls, the frames for doorways and the doors themselves, the frames for windows and the shutters themselves. I thought about the furniture – the tables, the chairs, the stools, the cupboards. I thought about how he helped build people’s homes and sheds and barns and fences, and how he helped build the tools to build them. I thought about how he learned to hitch animals to the plow and how those animals would have welcomed Jesus’ gentle touch and low murmurs, thinking this human was different from the others. I thought about all the gifts and toys he would have made as surprises for his family and friends, and for the children in the village, because Jesus would not have made things just for money; he would have made them to help people and to make them happy.
Oh, to have just one piece that Jesus made! But those relics of his carpenter years are long gone. Wood, unless petrified, is not meant to last.
And then my mind took a turn, and I thought about Jesus the Son of God and the hastily hacked, crudely assembled wood pieces that were his execution device. I wonder, as he hung on the cross, if he thought about how poorly the wood was cut, and whether his inner carpenter was appalled at the crudeness of the huge nails and how inappropriate their size was to their use. I can see Jesus – not “gentle Jesus, meek and mild”, but strong and capable carpenter Jesus – shaking his head at the poor workmanship he had to suffer in his final hours after all those years of striving for perfection. I wonder if he gave God an earful about that, and if they had a good silent chuckle together, the way only a father and son who love each other without restraint can share a laugh even under the direst of circumstances.
You don’t forget the skills that you learn at your father’s feet. The smell of freshly cut wood would have been in Jesus’ blood. It would have been for him the smell of home. And so I think the fragrance of the green wood and the almost comical crudeness of the cross would have brought a measure of comfort and welcome distraction to Jesus in his final agonizing moments in human form. And I think God did all of this for this very reason, to comfort Jesus, and that Jesus was not born the son of a carpenter by chance, but by design.
I remember reading a while back about the ritual gesture carpenters make when they finish a job: They take the cloth that they used to clean the dust from the wood, fold it neatly, and place it to the side of the finished piece. This indicates that the work is done.
When Peter entered the tomb on the third day, he saw the burial cloths lying in a heap together, but the cloth that had covered Jesus’ face was separate, folded neatly and set to one side. Who but a carpenter would have sent such a clear and unmistakable sign not only that his work was accomplished, but that he – the son of a carpenter, the Son of God – had done this?
Nothing happens by chance in God’s economy.
Jesus was a carpenter by design.