‘Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary?’ Mark 6. 3
A carpenter in the ancient world was a highly skilled worker in wood who provided a variety of services to local communities. This included, among other things, making domestic furniture and household utensils as well as agricultural equipment to meet the needs of the farming community, 2 Sam. 24. 22. The carpenter’s tool box consisted of an array of implements such as planes, dividers or compasses, Isa. 44. 13, as well as wooden mallets, Judg. 5. 25, chisels, awls, and axes to carve wood, and hammers and nails to secure items in place, Jer. 10. 4. Parts of the tabernacle were made from acacia wood by the gifted craftsman Bezaleel and his team of co-workers that would have included carpenters, Exod. 31. 1-11. Phoenicia was famous during David’s reign for ship-building and Hiram king of Tyre sent carpenters and masons to build David a house out of cedar wood, 2 Sam. 5. When the temple was built, carpenters would have been responsible for a large amount of the work such as the making of the two cherubims out of olive wood each measuring ten cubits high, 1 Kgs. 6. 23. Later, carpenters were employed to repair the same temple during the reign of Joash, 2 Chr. 24. 12. Sadly, carpenters also made idols for worship, Isa. 44. 13-17. In New Testament times the trade of a carpenter was regarded as being equivalent to that of a common labourer, hence, part of the lower classes. So it is more than likely that the congregation in the synagogue at Nazareth was making a highly disparaging comment when they identified the Lord as ‘the carpenter, the son of Mary’, Mark 6. 3. In Matthew’s account, however, our Lord is identified as ‘the carpenter’s son’, Matt. 13. 55, which assumes that Joseph had passed on his skills to our Lord. This family was undoubtedly well known in the locality for its wood-working business, but the reality of who our Lord really was seems to have missed them entirely! In William Holman Hunt’s famous picture entitled The Shadow of the Cross, our Lord is depicted as working as a carpenter with his arms outstretched after sawing wood, and the shadow of His outstretched arms falls on a wooden spar on which tools are hung, creating a ‘shadow of death’ depicting crucifixion. How ironic, then, to think that the very raw material that He had often shaped with His hands as a carpenter would one day be shaped into a wooden cross used for His public crucifixion. But, as Peter reminds us so powerfully, He was ‘delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God’, Acts 2. 23. May we, like Paul, only glory in that cross, ‘the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ’, Gal. 6. 14.