The master builder

For most of His adult life, Jesus worked as a carpenter - working with His hands and learning from the craft some of the basic lessons of earthly life. The scriptures are unfortunately silent about this part of His life, between the time He was 12 and 30, except to say that He "increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man." (Luke 2:52.) But we might imagine what His life was like.

He learned firsthand the value of work. He smelled the sweet odor of new wood, and experienced the inward satisfaction of creating something new and useful. He likely dealt with customers, perhaps negotiated with them. And He observed.We would recognize many of His tools today. He worked with saws, hammers and axes. He used an adz to rough out pieces of wood, and a scraper to smooth them. A bow drill and auger were in common usage, dating back to the time of the pharaohs, and the Bible mentions the use of planes. He knew how to measure with a compass and rule. Joinery - the fitting together of wood pieces with interlocking units - was already an ancient art that created tight-fitting joints, some of them sturdy to this day.

He would have learned the properties of the various woods He worked with: cypress, oak, olive, cedar, pine, fir - which ones were difficult to use, which ones endured, which ones kept insects away, which were stable and which were soft. And because wood was not abundant, He likely learned to use other materials, like stone.

He probably made tables where families could gather after a day's work to enjoy each other's company, or where they could spread out their own work. He would have made stools and chairs for them to rest on, cabinets to hold their household goods and utensils (which He also may have made), doors to give them both privacy and access.

A carpenter could end up working with beams for shelters, bridges across streams, homes for newlyweds. He would also have made yokes for their oxen and donkeys, wooden plows to turn the tough Palestinian soil. He might have helped repair damaged homes and shops or fixed broken furniture.

And all the while He observed, collecting a wealth of everyday anecdotes and images. These eventually surfaced in the incomparable parables He used later when He taught the profound truths of the gospel. "Jesus was a close observer of nature and men," wrote Elder James E. Talmage in Jesus the Christ. He saw the way people worked, both tradesmen and professionals: the ways of the lawyer and the physician, the manners of the scribe, the Pharisee and the rabbi, the habits of the poor, the customs of the rich, the life of the shepherd, the farmer, the vinedresser and the fishermen - all were known to Him.

For the Savior, work was a source of wisdom, as well as a source of satisfaction. There is profound meaning in work, beyond the function it serves of making us useful and providing food and shelter for us and our families. It's a visible expression of our common purpose. Few of us can do everything for ourselves; we must share our labors and goals, or risk being left alone and unfulfilled. That's true not only of our everyday life, but also of our efforts in the Church to build the Kingdom.

"Now the Savior must have been an honorable and honest carpenter, or He never could have merited the position He afterwards occupied," noted President Lorenzo Snow. "If we could get the brethren and sisters to see the importance of acting honestly and faithfully in their respective callings, much of the annoyances and troubles we now experience would be averted, and the work of God would roll on with redoubled rapidity, and all His purposes would be more rapidly and speedily accomplished; and besides, as a people, we would be better prepared than we now are for the dispensation of His will."

President Spencer W. Kimball was intrigued by yet another aspect of Jesus' work as a carpenter.

"He was not an architect, nor a contractor, nor a builder. He was only a Galilean carpenter, a maker of wooden plows and oxen yokes. But He inspired the noblest, most marvelous architecture known to man.

"He Himself specialized in character engineering, to make men, human masterpieces. He took a Peter and made a Saint. He took a Saul and made a Paul. And He took you and me and He will make of us gods if we will comply and follow along. What a picture! So terrible and yet so sublime. So awesome and yet so grand. So painful and yet so productive." (The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball.)

Truly, the Savior was a builder - as so should we be.

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