Article by Wendy Rush.
Jesus was a carpenter. And I have always known that he spent many more years at his trade than he did working in ministry. But until now I have never paused to consider ‘why a carpenter?’ Why not a fisherman, a farmer, a builder, a viticulturist? It would clearly have been unworkable for him to be anchored to the land when he needed to step into the role of itinerant preacher. But is there some other significance in his choice of carpentry?
The dictionary defines a carpenter as someone who builds and fixes wooden things. And the definition of ‘wooden’ includes ‘stiff, ungainly, or awkward’, and ‘without spirit or animation’. I am astute enough to realise that these definitions could easily be ascribed to me.
My stepfather, Tam, was a carpenter. He built things out of wood and he fixed things made of wood. We had a big shed in our back yard with a work bench, tools of every kind and stacks of timber – old and new – in a variety of shapes and sizes. I can smell the sawdust even now as I recall him building cupboards, benches, toys, shelves, even a staircase that wound up to my bedroom that he had built in the roof cavity of our old bungalow. But what fascinated me most was that he mainly used recycled timbers. Old kitchen units, old doors, and building materials reclaimed from demolition sites.
He once used some recycled timber to make me a ‘glory box’, sometimes called a ‘hope chest’ – in the days when teenage girls, full of hope, would collect everything from glassware to manchester in preparation for setting up house.
I watched Tam go to work as he used his tools to transform the old timber into something new. He leveraged bits of wood apart, pulled out rusty nails with a claw hammer, chipped off old glue with a chisel. He planed the rough bits and made them smooth, used paint stripper then steel wool to get into the crevices to remove paint residue and other stains, sanded the timber to a smooth finish. Finally, when it was all stripped bare, thoroughly clean and totally smooth, he was able to cut the pieces of timber to the exact size needed to fit the blueprint that he had prepared.
And still the work continued. Sawing, gluing, nailing, screwing, and more sanding. Finishing with oil to condition the wood followed by wood grain lacquer to match the other pieces that he had worked on previously. And the final, very special, finishing touch. When it looked like it was completely finished, he took a small wood-working tool and began to gouge. He cut through what appeared to be a perfect finish to hollow out some lines and swirls in the top then filled them with gold to spell out my name – ‘Wendy’.
The final piece – my glory box – was a wonderful example of how once discarded, previously broken and useless pieces placed in the right hands could be restored and transformed into something new, beautiful, useful and cherished. Something that had been crafted especially for me.
I have come to believe that this is why Jesus chose carpentry. His life’s work was, and is, restoration – but he no longer works in wood. The same principles apply, though, as he removes unwanted things from our lives, pries us away from worldly influences, scrapes off the residue of disobedience, planes away the rough edges of selfishness, washes away the stain of sin with his blood and anoints us with oil. All the while claiming us as his own with the mark of the Holy Spirit.
It sounds like a painful process, because it often can be. But there is no other place I would rather be than in the hands of the Carpenter, who has a blueprint for my life and knows exactly how to shape me and refine me in order to make the best out of me.
In contemplating Jesus the Carpenter I also ask myself what it must have been like working with wood for many years, knowing that you would one day be put to death on a wooden cross. That the hands that shaped and refined the raw material into beautiful and treasured objects would one day themselves be pierced with nails. Perhaps as Jesus took the rough timber in his hands and sawed, planed, sanded and polished, it was a constant reminder that his sacrifice on a rough wooden cross would bring restoration to a hurting world.
This article was first published in ‘Restored’- LifeWell Collection of Creative Works, August 2011 and then in the December 2013 glossy edition of RISE magazine. See back issues here.