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My Boss is a Jewish Carpenter

By January 25, 2022Blog

– October 14, 2020 –

We don’t really know a lot of Jesus’s first career as a carpenter. We don’t even use the word “career” to describe what he did, but if he did it for more than ten years, we can safely call it “a career.”

We do know that the work itself isn’t what modern carpenters do. He was probably more like a builder using the tools and materials customary to that time and place – which means he was a stone mason. Our focus on carpentry probably comes from the English-language translation of Matthew 13:55 (“Isn’t this the carpenter’s son?”) that reveals more about the building materials familiar to the biblical translators, rather than what was actually available in the Holy Land.

Is “Jesus as a builder” just a metaphor that he came to shape his followers and fit them together into a spiritual house: a temple to bring glory to God? I don’t think so. I think it was a “vocation” for him along the lines of the KIROS email on September 2 from Jeff Rogers (“Full Time for All… Named, Designated, and Appointed”). I think there’s something truly important that the creator of the universe came to live and work among us.

The custom in Biblical times dictated that Jesus learned his trade from Joseph and then was in business for himself. There’s no doubt that Jesus wasn’t doing the work for free. He was looking out for the needs of his customers, and earned his way in society. In serving his society, he was glorifying God.

What would a day look like for Jesus? Likely procuring materials from the quarries, placing and fitting stones, collecting payment from customers, and bidding future jobs. And he probably had to deal with the unhappy realities of being a builder: terminating employees for whom it wasn’t a good fit, managing unrealistic expectations of demanding customers, chasing down delinquent payments, and more.

Translated into our time and place, he’d also be writing contracts, issuing invoices, attracting and retaining talent, making payroll, paying taxes/fees, complying with myriad business/employment regulations, and dealing with building-code inspectors. He’d probably have a little bit of warranty work to do, too. Don’t forget maintaining a website with search-engine optimization and social-media marketing.

Many times, we build a hierarchy in our own minds of what is “holy” work to the glory of God. People who adopt this view will often place more value on the primary delivery of service or transformation of matter into a product, diminishing the value of support functions like finance or marketing. Paul reminds us of how important each of the parts are in 1 Corinthians 12.  Marketers will remind us that even if you’re the best at what you do, it doesn’t matter a whit unless you have customers to serve!

I also don’t think we should limit our concept of “the parts” as applying just to our company. Paul’s metaphor applies equally well when thinking about a dynamic economy as it is constantly changing to balance market desires with what’s possible. No one part is more important than the others.

As we go about our daily business, remember that it’s for the glory of God. These normal activities of work are redeemed for the Lord’s purposes, and in doing these our part, it allows us the opportunity to invest in the lives of others so that they can spend eternity with the Father as well.

There’s something holy in listening and responding to our calling, whatever it is for each of us. What’s yours?

Rob Young
KIROS Board Member

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