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Home  >  Features  >  Looking Back: Jesus the Carpenter

Looking Back

Friday December 10 2021

Looking Back: Jesus the Carpenter

A carpenter explains what it means to him that Jesus shared his trade. Published in December 1946.


The Man who cried "Why?"

A SCOTTISH CARPENTER tells why the carpentering of Jesus comes as a shock to him.

[Based on conversations with the Editor.]

I DON’T think I realised it till quite lately. I suppose I always knew about it – but it wasn’t real. The life of Jesus in my trade, I mean.

It came as a shock to me to know that he was almost certainly an unemployed man for a time, when the shop lost the trade of a neighbouring city which was destroyed in war, and all the surrounding villages which supplied its markets were thrown back on themselves and lost their trade. It’s queer to think that he may have known the kind of thing I went though in the “hungry thirties” – walking the streets with the other men and talking about the chances of markets and recovery, and turning his hands to hobbies to fill in the time.

It’s enough even to think of him in amongst business troubles – the wrangling for prices, and the irritability of the customer who is never satisfied – and living in a poor home, with the father dead in the prime of life and the mother struggling to bring up a big family.

What was the shock of it for me? It was when I realised that if he’d come through all that He must have cared about it for his mates too. That means he must have thought about unemployment and asked “Why?” like me. He couldn’t have said that he didn’t care about prices and wages and shortages of houses and food. You can’t tell me that he lived in the middle of all that, in a trade, and hadn’t any interest in the rights and wrongs of work and wages.

I don’t believe he was “above” politics, as some people say. That’s the stained-glass window Christ, not the Christ who was a working-man – and cared about other men. I don’t believe he could have been out of politics. He must have been in politics – but with such a different idea of politics that nobody recognised it as politics.

And that makes me wonder whether we recognise it even yet. He didn’t stop being that kind of person when he was lifted out of this life. He didn’t lose touch with the common folk and their work because he was what you call “glorified.” He didn’t stop caring about the rights and wrongs of housing and daily bread, did he? And he called his Church his Body. It was to go on trying to be what he was – with something added because he would be with us always.

Do you mean to tell me with all that before us that he had no idea in his mind about the way men were to live together and earn their bread together and share it together? Don’t you see what you are saying if you talk like that? You’re saying that he left the difficult bit to us – the really important bit – without any help? And isn’t that just what thousands of men outside the Church are saying to-day – that the Church has only the theory; it has only got books and sermons, it hasn’t got the cutting edge on realities.

I think he’s still asking “Why?” – because he’s in the midst of us and not lifted away out of touch with us. His whole life was a cry of “Why?” He saw men full of hidden fears, struggling for something which would take away fear and never finding it. He saw them building up mighty kingdoms that didn’t give the men in them what their hearts cried out for. He saw them building up businesses and gathering riches, and missing what life was meant to be. He saw them building up power to make security, and somehow things were as insecure as ever. He saw men fighting and struggling and suffering- and still perplexed. And he wanted to ask them why.

I believe he is still crying “Why?” He can’t tell us by a sort of twenty-word telegram. But he can tell us when we are willing to try. That is the other shock to me – to believe that he can and we don’t let him.

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