“This is the Carpenter, the Son of Mary”

This is the carpenter, the son of Mary.​—Mark 6:3

Talk recently during the Daily Text discussion was about what Jesus was known for. Was he executed for anything having to do with carpentry? The commentary cited Luke 3:23: “When Jesus began his work, he was about 30 years old...” What “work” was he known for? It wasn’t carpentry, yet he was described as “the carpenter.”

Curiously, the first Witness to be jailed in Russia after the 2017 ban in that country has a surname, Christensen, that indicates whom he follows. His occupation? A carpenter—just like that of the one he follows—and the last noteworthy thing he did as a carpenter was to build a playground for the neighborhood children. But he wasn’t arrested on account of his carpentry, was he?

They came from humble roots, those first-century Christians did, and for the most part that is true today. Their leading ones were said to be “unlearned and ordinary” (Acts 4:13) and for the most part, that is true today. These days, without letters appended to one’s name, people are barely worth noticing. Same thing back then. Doesn’t that explain why, apart from the early Christians themselves, there are only four figures in contemporary history (Tacitus, Pliny the Younger, Philo, Josephus) who mention early Christianity at all—and all of them only in brief passing paragraphs, about one per writer—it’s never their main topic—almost the priority you might assign in discussing what the plumbers were doing back then. The doings of the common people are beneath the notice of the upper classes.

The apostle Paul wrote about letters. “Are we starting to recommend ourselves again? Or do we need, like some men, letters of recommendation to you or from you? You yourselves are our letter, inscribed on our hearts and known and being read by all mankind.” (2 Corinthians 3:1-2) They did the work. They preached and made disciples. That was their letter, not some honorary title appended by some school to their name. Jesus said you could even be distracted by such honorary things: “How can you believe, when you are accepting glory from one another and you are not seeking the glory that is from the only God? (John 5:44) They’re okay, those letters are—no harm in them and they do denote some study, but it is possible to hide behind them. They are not what cuts it from God’s point of view.

Another verse cited in the text commentary was 2 Timothy 2:15: “Do your utmost to present yourself approved to God, a workman with nothing to be ashamed of, handling the word of the truth aright.” If you say you are expecting a workman to arrive at the house, what sort of person do you expect? A lawyer? Once again, the ministry of Christians is linked with humble work. Accordingly, the Christian organization today has taken to gathering together a “teaching toolbox” of materials, video and otherwise, for use in the ministry. It is not a portfolio. It is not a briefcase. It is a toolbox.

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