Almost as well known as the cross of Christ, was his occupation. Jesus was a carpenter. In fact, he spent far more of his earthly years with a tape measure in his hand rather than a Bible. His preparatory school was not a seminary but more like a saw mill.
This does not mean Jesus was an industrial contractor responsible for the construction of super-structures. He was more like the village handy man, someone to call when you needed to get a project done.
Jesus was the one who arrived in his little ladder covered work van and overalls to fix a broken gate or fence, to repair a leaky roof, to raise a pole barn, or build a deck on the back of your house. It was simple, honest work, and Jesus must have been pretty good at.
With the pounding of the hammer, the scattering of fresh wood shavings, and the emergence of a new creation right before his eyes, the occupation matched him well. And his language betrays this fact, for he speaks with repeated references to and examples from the world of construction.
How did he teach his disciples not to judge others? Well, having rubbed more than one wood chip from his own watering eye, he comically told them to be sure to remove the two-by-four cypress beam lodged in their own cornea before attempting to point out the speck under the eyelid of someone else.
And what about the life of discipleship? He compared the decision to follow his radical way of life to building a tower. It was a costly enterprise that should only be initiated by those who have the resources and resolve to complete what they start.
His parables got in on the act too. He once condemned a rich man – a fool Jesus called him – for building bigger and bigger barns to hold all his toys and wealth, rather than using that wealth in a way to help others.
Jesus’ most inflammatory words came right out of the carpentry shop, even. He said to the religious leaders of his day: “Tear down thisTemple, and I will rebuild it in three days.” The forcefulness of these words has been lost on us.
Jesus was attacking the religious and social center of Jewish culture. To defame theTemplewas to commit high sacrilege. And here Jesus was threatening to destroy it. The temple Jesus spoke of was his own body, but the clergy never forgave him for his blasphemy.
Once, while Jesus was teaching and healing the sick, a group of men came to him carrying their sick friend on a stretcher. The press of the crowd was too great, so they resorted to drastic measures. They tore the roof off of the house that held Jesus.
Then they lowered their friend by pulley and rope down to where Jesus could heal him. Jesus never protested their demolition project, and I have often wondered if he stayed around afterwards to repair the damage. He certainly knew how.
And we are all builders, Jesus said. He spoke of our lives as a house we are building. Some of us build on the sand. When the storms of adversity come – and they are certain to come – our lives collapse in a great disastrous heap, the foundation upon which we have built unable to bear the strain.
But those who build upon the rock – the rock being the teachings of Christ – survive the hard times. The storms come, the winds blow, and the water rises. Still, the house remains on its foundation, not because its construction is faultless, but because it is resting on solid ground.
Of course I cannot ignore Jesus’ most celebrated building reference. After Simon Peter’s confession that Jesus was without a doubt the Messiah of God, Jesus said, “Upon this rock I will build my church.”
Scholars of all persuasion have debated and cajoled over the exact meaning of Jesus’ words here. To whom or what was Jesus referring: The confession that Jesus is Christ? The faith of men and women like Simon Peter? Peter himself?
I think I’ll stay out of that two thousand year argument and be content with the fact that it is Jesus building his church, and no one else. After all, he has proven he knows how to handle a hammer.