Today’s Bible reading

Jesus left there and went to his hometown, accompanied by his disciples. When the Sabbath came, he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were amazed.

“Where did this man get these things?” they asked. “What’s this wisdom that has been given him? What are these remarkable miracles he is performing? Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t this Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon? Aren’t his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him.

Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own town, among his relatives and in his own home.” He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them. He was amazed at their lack of faith. — Mark 6:1-5

More thoughts for meditation

Jesus apparently worked at a “secular” job for most of his young adult years. As was customary for boys in that day, Jesus was probably apprenticed alongside his father Joseph.  His former neighbors knew Jesus by his previous trade: “Isn’t this the tektōn?” (Mark 6:3). Tektōn has been rendered as “carpenter” since William Tyndale’s English Bible translation (1526). Yet “builder” may be a more accurate translation. In first-century Israel, the tektōn was a general craftsman who worked with stone, wood, and sometimes metal in large and small building projects.

Although Jesus knew as a boy what his ultimate business would be (see Luke 2) he was probably apprenticed at the customary age of twelve. He then spent at least eighteen years as a builder, six times as long as his public ministry. Tradition suggests that his father Joseph died a few years prior to Jesus entering public ministry. During that time, then, Jesus would have headed up the family building business, implying Jesus’ primary responsibility for financially supporting the family (Matt 13:55-56). Only artisans or other craftspeople had the ancient equivalent of small, independent businesses. They constituted a minority of the labor force. For Jesus’ family to work in a trade indicates they were in the lower middle-income class of that day.

Almost 50% of Jesus’ parables have a “business setting.” Perhaps some aspects of these stories had a personal connection. For example, when teaching on the cost of discipleship, Jesus mentions one should have the funds at the start to complete a tower (Luke 14:28). Might Jesus have built a tower for a customer but never have been fully paid?

Can we conclude Jesus understands the business world as an insider? He probably worked as a sub-contractor alongside other artisans, completing projects, and handling finances—negotiating bids, purchasing supplies, and contributing to family living expenses.  For those many years Jesus worked with his hands in masonry and carpentry, in good and bad weather, getting paid and not getting paid. Jesus can identify with the ups and downs of a business workday. For a few years, he had responsibilities for day-to-day operations of running what we’d call a small business. And consider that this day job—where he spent a good part of his young adult years—contributed to Jesus’ character formation to become the kind of person we read about in the Gospels.

Jesus was involved in some sort of carpentry or masonry work during his life, but that doesn’t mean “following Jesus” must involve stone or wood work. How then can we tell when something is intended as an example? As always, we will need to listen carefully to what the passage itself seems to be saying. If there are clear signs in the text that a given person is deserving of praise or blame, we have warrant to think about how those praiseworthy or blameworthy traits might play out in the contemporary workplace.

Watching Jesus at work, realizing what he came from and where he is going is a great example of the best way to work. We see God’s own Son incarnate and in action, working hard to further God’s kingdom through teaching, healing, exorcism, feeding, and a host of other activities. We may not do exactly the things Jesus does, but we can trust that he is providing us of a model of how to go about our business.

Suggestions for action

Pray: May I be about my father’s business, no matter the opposition.

So many people put Jesus in some “other” category and assume he can’t relate to their work. How about you? Try reading the first five chapters, or so, of Mark and see Jesus doing his “business.” What is he going for? How is he going about his work? What traits do you see him exercising that you could develop in your own work, both in your everyday job and in your deeper vocation as a member of the body of Christ?