Seems to me that when you stop learning, you effectively stop living. It’s more than breathing and keeping your heart beating; learning should be a lifelong pursuit. Just about every day I’ve learned something new, and I don’t plan to quit doing so anytime soon. It might not always be an “aha” moment, but it’s fun being say, “I didn’t know that!”
One of my most recent insights involves a long-standing Christian tradition. If someone were to ask you, “What was Jesus’ profession?”, how would you answer? Most likely you’d respond, “Everyone knows He was a carpenter.” Oh, yeah? As sports commentator Lee Corso liked to say, “Not so fast, my friend.”
I’ve been reading a book called, The Rock, the Road, and the Rabbi by Kathie Lee Gifford with Rabbi Jason Sobol. It introduces readers to well-known biblical sites, but also debunks some widely accepted facts – including the vocation of Jesus.
Yes, we’ve all heard that Jesus grew up as a carpenter, a trade he learned from his earthly father, Joseph. In fact, an excellent little evangelistic book by Josh McDowell is called More Than a Carpenter. However, Sobol points out that “tekton” – the Greek word often translated as “carpenter” – also can be translated “stonemason,” “builder” or “architect.”
Before you shrug and say, “So what?”, this is significant for a number of reasons. First of all, although Jesus as a craftsman might have done some work with wood, most of the construction in His day was with stones and rocks. Trees were not very plentiful, so modern-day visitors to Israel quickly observe most of the buildings there consist primarily of stone, not wood.
This becomes even more significant when we consider many of Jesus’ teachings. In the “sermon on the mount,” which launched His three-year public ministry, He offered the parable of the wise and foolish builders:
“Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock” (Matthew 7:24-25).
He immediately contrasts this man to one who builds a house on unstable sand, unable to withstand the ferocity of a severe storm. Jesus was obviously drawing from His years of personal experience in building with stones, and also offering an illustration His hearers could relate to readily.
Some of them might also have connected this teaching with the prophecy in Isaiah 28:16, “So this is what the Sovereign Lord says: ‘See, I lay a stone in Zion, a tested stone, a precious cornerstone for a sure foundation; the one who trusts [in him] will never be dismayed.’”
In Mark 6:2-3, we read about how skeptics in Jesus’ hometown responded to His amazing teachings: “’Where did this man get these thing?’ they asked. ‘What’s this wisdom that has been given him, that he even does miracles! Isn’t this the [tekton]?...’ And they took offense at him.” Many translations use the word “carpenter,” but builder or stonemason are probably more accurate.
Earlier in His famous sermon, Jesus made another reference drawn from His craft: “Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone?... If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask Him?” (Matthew 7:9-11). He used the analogy of a stone, not a piece of wood.
We could look at many other passages, but one in particular stands out. In his first epistle, the apostle Peter writes, “As you come to him, the living Stone – rejected by men but chosen by God and precious to him – you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood” (1 Peter 2:4-5).
After Peter cites the passage above from Isaiah, he then quotes from Psalm 118:22, “The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone,” and Isaiah 8:14, “A stone that causes men to stumble and a rock that makes them fall.”
Much more could be said, but isn’t it interesting that we have been called to build our life – and faith – on the solid foundation of what the old hymn calls, “the solid Rock,” the One who chose to make His earthly profession that of a stonemason?
Houses made of wood can burn. Those built on poor foundations or on hillsides may fall in a terrible storm or landslide. But those built of stone are typically much more stable and secure. The question is, on what have we built our lives? Wood? Ever-shifting sand? Or are we trusting in and building our lives on the one true, unchanging, Living Stone?
There’s the cliché about being stuck between “a rock and a hard place.” Scriptures teach us that in Jesus, we are being offered the Rock as the way to avoid lots of hard places.