There is one thing missing from the Bible that has intrigued me for years, especially as I have experienced the blessings and trials of parenthood. That is the lack of any meaningful discussion of Joseph, the husband of Mary and the man chosen by our Father in Heaven to stand as His surrogate in raising His Only Beloved Son. What manner of man must he have been?
We know so little. We understand him to have been a kind and just man, based upon his treatment of Mary when he learned of her pregnancy and tried to spare her embarrassment through a private separation. We witness his humility, demonstrated when he accepted the angelic admonition to remain by Mary’s side and trust that this was the work of God. We suppose that he died early in the life of our Savior, as he is completely absent from the narratives of Christ’s ministry.
Of all the professions and trades to be plied by the man entrusted to rear the Son of God, why that of a carpenter? Wouldn’t it make more sense for him to have been a priest or rabbi, someone with a heightened understanding of scripture who could help guide and instruct the young Jesus as he grew in his understanding of the gospel? Why, of all things, a worker of wood?
Any answer is pure conjecture, but as I have thought about this in recent days, I have come to believe that there might have been no profession more instructive for Jesus in His formative years. My own grandfather was a carpenter, so I have at least a passing familiarity with what they do and how the trade may have provided a perfect environment to raise a Redeemer. I think it may have to do with Christ’s role as the Great Transformer of mankind.
Those who work with wood possess a gift that I don’t share, but I envy. Like a sculptor, they can look at the raw material of wood and see within it something that is hidden from the rest of us. Where I might see only a nondescript block of wood, of little value other than to prop open a door or stoke a fire, a gifted carpenter might see a beautiful image of a horse, disguised only by the rough pieces that need to be removed in order to bring out the buried beauty.
Or he might see how that piece of wood, properly shaped and employed, can be put to use with other anonymous pieces to create a strong and magnificent structure, creating something that adds up to much more than the sum of its parts. The temple of Solomon was constructed from such pieces of timber, none of which would be remembered for their individual traits, but when brought together would become the stuff of legend.
In such a manner, Christ the Carpenter is able to transform each of us. Where we may look into a mirror and see only disappointment, failure, or a depressing ordinariness, Christ sees what we can become. As we trust ourselves to His hands, He shapes us into something that only He could see before. Where we would see a lowly fisherman, He saw Peter. Where we might shake our heads at a stammering old outcast, He would shape the same into Moses. Perhaps that is why it was so common in the scriptures to have followers of God receive new names upon their interaction with the divine. He transforms Jacob into Israel, and Saul into Paul. Because when the transforming power of Christ touches us, we can never be the same. We become, as Paul reminds us, “new creatures.”
For many of us, He finds the role that we can best play in His great work, something that may seem inconsequential to us, but turns out to be of great worth to someone else. He finds the purpose to which we are perfectly fit, and by doing so constructs His kingdom .
Christ redeems us by changing us. From death to life. From the stains of sin to being white as snow. From stubborn fools to devoted disciples. It was in order to make something glorious of each of us that He came to Bethlehem, walked the lands of Galilee, and stretched out in pain in Gethsemane and Golgotha. His work was to take creatures as lowly as us, and through His grace, have us become joint heirs with Him.
Perhaps that is why, when the Father looked over the expanse of Earth to find the man to raise His Son, He chose to place Him in a carpenter’s hands.