22 Feb

Text and image by Rick McVicar. Updated March 25, 2024       

     What role do wood and trees play in the Christian tradition? 

     The sixth chapter of Mark’s Gospel opens with Jesus returning to his hometown only to be met with scorn by people in the local synagogue (vs. 1-6, NIV).             

     Their reaction comes after Jesus begins to teach during Sabbath observances. People in the congregation are dismayed by his words as well as stories of the miracles he has performed. They wonder how someone from a familiar family, pillars of the community, could upend long-standing traditions.              

     “Isn’t this the carpenter?” they ask, noting that Jesus used to be one of them (v. 3).             

     At first, the passage does not appear to be about nature at all. Yet this notation of Jesus’ previous occupation clearly puts Jesus with nature. Before Jesus’ ministry, he worked with his hands crafting wooden fixtures. His occupation would have given him a deep appreciation for trees.     

        The closeness of carpenters to nature in Jesus' era is confirmed by an article written by Charles Pope, "Workers and Trades in Jesus' Time." The 2017 article can be found on the website of "Community and Mission," a blog of the Archdiocese of Washington.

     According to Pope, carpenters in Jesus' time would go out into the forest to choose the trees they would use for their work. Carpenters constructed household items, including roofs, as well as farm implements. Wood was scarce and paneling was reserved for the rich, Pope notes. 

     The author quotes Isaiah 44:13-15 to describe the work of a carpenter, "He plants a cedar and the rain nourishes it."

     I think Jesus’ work as a carpenter explains a lot about how he sees nature. In an earlier posting, I write about how Jesus talks about the growing of a seed while leaving out rain (4:1-34). I don’t think he liked rain, probably because of his carpentry background. Wet wood is not much use to a carpenter.             

     Besides having been a carpenter, Jesus spends a lot of time on or near lakes and sea. In an earlier posting, I write about how Jesus quiets a storm while in a boat (4:35-41). I wonder if his carpentry included boat making. 

     Throughout the church’s history, the focus of the gospel message has been on Jesus’ words. However, in this story his crafting skill sticks out and screams for attention.             

     How much of Jesus’ hands-on occupation relates to his ministry? Ironically, he dies on a piece of wood by hanging on a cross. Would Jesus have created crosses for the Roman empire when he was a carpenter? Probably not, but the possibility gives an ironic twist to the gospel story.  

     As you contemplate the role of carpentry in Christianity, may you have artful health today.                                                 

Sun shining through tree branches.

                 Click on image to go to "Jusus' Hometown" music video on YouTube.

* The email will not be published on the website.