Sometimes I think we forget the part of Jesus’ life that came before his ministry, the time he spent as a carpenter. We know that it happened but, because it’s not the part that’s written down, we ignore it – it’s a minor footnote in his story. But it’s a part that intrigues me.
I love to see the work of artists and artisans. Watching people who can weave together intricate detail, original creativity and incredible skill to make something beautiful is something that fills me with wonder. It makes total sense to me that if Jesus was going to put in some time on earth before his ministry, it would be in a creative field. He who flung the stars into space, moulded each petal and picked out the colour palette for the oceans would surely have made some exquisite woodwork.
In our mass produced systems of today we forget that every item used in the world Jesus inhabited was handmade. Bespoke furniture would be the norm. Everything individually made to order. Time, care and attention to detail in every piece, made by a skilled craftsman. Come with me for a few moments into Jesus’ workshop. With an artist’s eye he looks at a piece of wood, rough and unevenly shaped and sees the masterpiece within. He runs his hand over a piece of timber and knows what it will take to chisel away the excess, carve out a beautiful shape and sand it to smooth perfection. He knows what type of wood is best for each different purpose. He has to hand a vast array of utensils and tools, each for a different part of the process and can use each one deftly to achieve just the right outcome and effect. After many hours of labour and patience, leaving no rough edge untended, he has his prize.
I believe that he sees me the same way.
He looks at our uneven temperament and the character traits that are bent out of shape. He sees the rough, knotted surfaces of our daily lives, the selfishness, pride and impatience, the judgement, laziness and lack of compassion, and rather than throw us on the scrap heap, he sets to work.
Because he can see the masterpiece within.
There are days I like to think I’m nearly there, that all I really need is some sanding down, smoothing out the final few bumps. I think that we’ve been working on this for a while now, Jesus and I, and I’m looking pretty good.
And then he reaches for the hammer and chisel and I know that there’s another lump to be knocked off, and it’s going to be painful and uncomfortable.
We go over the same area of stubborn resistance, working where I thought we were finished, to chip away once more at the parts that need attention. And it is indeed a process that humbles and chastens me.
But I let him work away because I trust myself to the master who can see what needs to be done. I am being fashioned into the shape that he wants me to be, regardless of how long it takes.
And as I sit in his workshop, I’m reminded that when I look at others and find myself considering all of their rough edges, their flaws and failings, that Jesus sees a masterpiece in them too.
We are all a work in progress – and the craftsman hasn’t set down his tools.