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Jesus Was (Probably) a Carpenter

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Early in his ministry, Jesus gathers his disciples and returns to his hometown of Nazareth, where he begins teaching at the synagogue.

The home folk are not impressed. Matthew, Mark, and Luke offer three slightly different takes on their response:

"Is not this the carpenter's son? Is not his mother called Mary? And are not his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas? And are not all his sisters with us?" (Matt. 13:55)

"Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joseph and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?" (Mark 6:3)

"All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came out of His mouth. They said, 'Is not this Joseph's son?' " (Luke 4:22)

So, what was he? Carpenter or not? To make matters worse, that's the only time in the New Testament that Jesus is called a carpenter. The writers and apostles and even the Pharisees usually call him "teacher" or "rabbi" instead.

It's certainly possible that both Joseph and Jesus were carpenters. In those days, male children usually learned their trade from their fathers.

And you can be a teacher and a carpenter at the same time, just as Paul was a preacher and a tent-maker at the same time.

Still it is clear from all three passages that the good folks of Nazareth are being sarcastic. They're calling Jesus a carpenter as if it is a bad thing. It's okay for teachers to teach. Not so good for carpenters. Or plumbers. Or auto mechanics. Or maids. Or farmers. Or fishermen. Or whatever.

There is some pretty overt elitism in their jeering words. Sadly, that attitude persists today. There are even people in academia who sneer at their colleagues who teach journalism or business or consumer science, calling those departments "trades" in stark contrast with their "true" pursuits of academia, such as philosophy or Latin.

If Jesus was a carpenter, then he was proud of his handiwork. He apprenticed under his father, who doubtless taught him all he knew.

There is no division of labor in heaven, no hierarchy of skill sets. All are welcomed. All are equal.

"There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus." (Gal. 3:28)

And so it should be on earth. Jesus, Peter, Paul, and the rest of the heroes of the New Testament worked hard. They were craftsmen in every sense of the word.

And, in the end, they all became "fishers of men."

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