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Jesus was a builder.
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Adam was a farmer.  So was Noah, at least after the flood.  Abraham was a shepherd, after he was called out of whatever he did in his urban life.  Isaac and Jacob continued in the same occupation.  Joseph was an administrator, and fed a whole region.  Moses was a shepherd after running from Egypt.  David was a shepherd, then a military commander and court official, then king.

Jesus was a builder.

(Very likely your version says Jesus was a carpenter.  As you may be aware, the Greek word for his occupation is tekton, which means an artisan of any sort.  The only usages of related words in the New Testament clearly refer to a builder – 1 Corinthians 3:10, Hebrews 11:10.)

In various ways all those earlier individuals foreshadowed the work of Messiah.  In parables Jesus likens himself to a farmer and a shepherd.  Jesus fed large crowds.  He is to be the administrator of justice in God’s Kingdom.  And of course he’ll be the King.

It’s frequently noted that Moses and David in particular were groomed for their greater roles through their occupation as shepherds.  For probably 20 years or close to it, Jesus apprenticed under his adoptive father and worked as a builder.  Was this part of preparing him for his greater role?  You would think so, that his occupation wasn’t accidental.

But there’s not much in the parables of Jesus that would have been drawn from his experience as a builder.  Only three parables that I can think of, and a couple of them aren’t exactly what you might expect.

One is usually called the Rich Fool:

And he told them a parable, saying, “The land of a rich man produced plentifully, and he thought to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’ And he said, ‘I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.”’ But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.“  (Luke 12:16-21)

This isn’t about building per se, rather an intention to build for his own benefit and comfort.  Jesus might have just made up this scenario, but perhaps he actually encountered this situation firsthand.  Might he have known a rich man who contracted with Joseph and his sons to tear down old barns and build bigger ones—and then died?

Another one is the Tower Builder:

For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, “This man began to build and was not able to finish.”  (Luke 14:28-30)

It’s easy to imagine that Jesus might have been hired to build a tower, but partway through building it, the customer ran out of money and the project was canceled, leaving a useless half-built structure, and making a laughingstock of the client.

Interestingly, this parable is also about an intention to build, and an unfortunate outcome.

We might have expected some positive lessons from Jesus’s background as a builder.  We can probably think of some possibilities ourselves.  But Jesus really only had one: the Two Builders:

Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.  (Matthew 7:24-27)

We would hope, I guess, that Joseph and his boys built on good foundations.  Maybe it was some competitor that took the disastrous shortcut.  But again, we see an intention that came to a bad end.

The single positive object lesson Jesus employs from his trade is the good foundation.  Which is…not what we would expect.  The foundation isn’t the words of Jesus.  Both builders get the teachings.  The foundation is doing the words of Jesus.  Seems backwards, doesn’t it?  Seems like the doing should be what is built, based on his teachings.

So, it seems to me the lesson is this.  Receiving the teaching of Jesus creates the intention.  Digging a foundation is hard work, and so is putting Jesus’s teaching into action.  But that’s the foundation for a life—a house to live in without fear of the storms that surely come.

We might think that Jesus is the builder.  What he says is that we are the builder.  Building for our own benefit—and dying, or finding ourselves unable to finish, or having our house collapse.  Or, if we’re wiser builders, putting in the work.

Love, Paul


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