I went back to work last Friday. The night before, two supervisors cancelled meetings I had planned a week in advance. Under normal circumstances I would accept this as typical law firm shenanigans. But these were not normal circumstances. I was returning to work after 6 months of maternity leave and I was offended. The cancellations came in at midnight without consideration of its timeliness or impression it would have on a returning mother. Somewhere between finding excuses for my supervisors’ inconsiderateness and getting mad at their seeming lack of compassion during a global pandemic, I began questioning my reasons for even putting up with the foreseeable tomfooleries of law firm politics.
That night I had a long conversation with my husband, bemoaning my situation, questioning my motivation for remaining in a position that brought me little joy. I started murder-boarding my escape; throwing out business plans and contemplating staying at home with our child. Without a beat my husband said “You know, Jesus was a carpenter until he was 30.”
Bear with me for a moment.
For those of you who do not know, Christians believe Jesus was the Son of God, but also God incarnate. Jesus spent the last three years of His life teaching that faith could only be found through Him and that His sinless life and obedient sacrifice would fulfill the law that humans failed to perform. Accordingly, at 33 years old He was crucified for His teachings (and resurrected), which ultimately fulfilled the prophesies and made faith available for all who believed.
However, before that, Jesus was a carpenter (Mark 6:3, Matthew 13:54-55) far removed from what He was destined to be (the savior of the world). Scripture and basic Jewish tradition would confirm that Jesus was a carpenter (although woodworker was probably a mistranslation as Jesus most likely worked with stone seeing that was the most plentiful building material in the region).
Christians tend to focus on the last three years of Jesus’ life of ministry, which are what He is most famous for. We use that tiny snapshot as justification for abruptly quitting our 9-5 or questioning our careers that are seemingly incongruent with our innate desires. We become discontent and ironically believe staying in those positions is contrary to living by faith. However, that mindset misses an important lesson from Jesus’ life.
How much of Jesus’ personal experience as a carpenter might be reflected in His later ministry?
- Luke 20: 17-18 – “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone?”’
- John 14:1-3 – “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. 2My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.”
- Matthew 16:18 – “And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.”
- Did His various construction projects allow Him insight into landowner relationships (Mark 12:1-12)?
- Did He have to deal with customers who failed to pay for His work (Luke 14:28-30)?
- Did His knowledge of architecture influence His teachings on foundations (Matthew 7:24-27)?
- Was He ever tempted to defraud customers (Luke 16:1-16)?
Jesus was literally the Son of God, born to save the world, but He was dropped into hard labor, living an all-knowing life in anonymity. I am sure Jesus knew He was the son of God but when He came of age, instead of launching into the career for which He was born, He became a CARPENTER. Yet, we see evidence of how carpentry shaped His ministry, couching revolutionary concepts of faith in cultural familiarity to garner deeper understanding.
Why do we forget that Jesus was a carpenter? Because we venerate the freedom that comes with following Christ and lose sight of the years of refining that often comes through discipline.
At no point do we see Jesus reflect on His life with disgust as if carpentry was a detour necessary to play the part as a good Jewish son. Instead, it appears much of Jesus’ wisdom which He shared in parables may have been refined through His experience in His trade.
Jesus knew He was the Son of God but He still had to obey His earthly parents and excel in a family business for roughly sixteen years.
Jesus’ prior occupation gives me a new perspective through which to view my professional life. The point being that instead of using Jesus as the justification to seek out one’s purpose early in life, we can use Jesus’ whole life to encourage us to appreciate the arc of our professional development. We are not wasting our time any more than Jesus wasted His time coming of age and refining His wisdom in a trade far removed from his true destiny.
A step further, we can use Him as encouragement when the nay-sayers question our random change in profession.