Maybe Jesus Was a Lousy Carpenter

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bad fence
“Thanks for building our fence, Jesus. We promise to leave you a fair review on the Angie’s List bulletin board next time we’re in town.” (Image/Home Services by Gary)
I don’t know whether things like building inspectors or mechanisms for people to leave positive and negative customer reviews existed in the Middle East 2,000 years ago.

But maybe in the Nazareth town square there was a bulletin board of some kind where townspeople could leave reviews.

“Ezekiel the shepherd did an amazing job! He took our goats and pigs from Town A to Town B in just a few weeks’ time and he only ate three of our goats to survive! If you need a shepherd/goat herder for a cross-country flock transfer, Zeke’s totally your guy!”

Or maybe.

“We hired Ishmael to help us harvest figs and grapes. He was the absolute worst. He showed up late every day, collected the fewest figs of any hired farmhands, and he was always walking around the property naked with nothing but fig leaves covering his privates! Gag me. Ishmael is a dirty, fig-stealing nudist, and we will NEVER hire him again!”

And, just maybe, Jesus of Nazareth was a subpar carpenter. Maybe in today’s online-review terms, he had a 2.3-star rating.

“Our family hired Jesus the carpenter to help us build a barn. And we feel morally obligated to say what an absolute gem of a guy he is. Literally, the most kind and patient person we’ve ever met. I was giving him crap about being late half the days he worked here, and Jesus calmly explained how he’d stopped on the way over to help some sick and hungry people, and by the time he finished explaining, I wasn’t even mad anymore! He’s amazing. But, we’d also be doing our neighbors a disservice if we overlooked Jesus’ work. I mean, the guy’s a BRILLIANT philosopher and demonstrates impeccable character… but good God, his miter joints and tongue-and-groove work are about as shoddy as we’ve ever seen. Forty-five-degree angles, Jesus! Amiright? Goodness. We’re going to have to redo half of the barn next year, and when we call Joseph, we’re going to politely request that he not bring Jesus along with him. The entire back-half of the roof is leaking water every time it rains! I’ve got buckets of water everywhere! Anyone know a guy who can turn it into wine? I need a drink!”

No matter what you believe about Jesus, I encourage you to consider that he might not have been an amazing carpenter.

I’m a long-time Jesus guy, so I had a little trouble dealing with the idea when I first considered it. But I think your life will suck more if you run away from discomfort all the time, so I hope even if you’re also a long-time Jesus person, you’ll let the idea roll around your mind a little.

It’s amazing the stuff we don’t think about. REALLY important things.

For many people in the world, Jesus is the focal point of their spiritual lives. PERFECT. SINLESS. DIVINE.

For many people, Jesus = God.

I insist we not have any religious or theological discussions on the matter. Because that’s not the point.

The point is: You’re a human being. And you’re a miracle. And you’re amazing. And you’re capable of doing incredibly beautiful and inspiring things, and I couldn’t believe in you more.

But you know what you also are? Thoughtless. Wrong. Confused. Misinformed. Misremembering. Flawed.

Those aren’t value judgments. Those are simply true things that come along with each and every one of our Welcome to Earth gift packs when we arrive.

And I think this is EXTREMELY IMPORTANT for people to understand about themselves—this idea that no matter how intelligent or healthy or functional we are, we get things wrong a lot.

When you KNOW you’re right and are disagreeing with someone else who also KNOWS they’re right, bad things tend to happen—especially when you’re in a romantic relationship or marriage with them.

I don’t think I’m going to blow the minds of anyone in the relationship counseling or family therapy space by identifying THAT as the root cause of the vast majority of relationship dysfunction and human emotional suffering.

And I can only think of two things that might help:

  1. Encouraging smart and healthy communication techniques.
  2. Encouraging people to start questioning their beliefs and holding them to the same level of scrutiny they’re applying to others’.

Every instinct in your body is to avoid doing this. You start rattling your inner Beliefs cage, and your whole world can feel unsteady.

But it’s what we’ve got to do. We must.

Uncomfortable Truths > Comfortable Wrongs

It’s the difference between being a slave in the Matrix, or living free in the Real World.

What Might You Be Wrong About?

I want to be SUPER-clear on something. I am NOT trying to challenge your core beliefs. Never. I promise. Those are for you and no one else.

But I think calling attention to things—VERY serious and sacred things for many of us—and then pointing out how thoughtless and careless we are with some of those beliefs can help illustrate how silly we can be. Ultimately, that silliness can cost us healthy relationships with those we love most, and lead to the most pain we can ever feel. The pain of breaking on the inside after your family or marriage or friendship is torn apart can feel infinitely more uncomfortable than can the process of challenging your own beliefs and assumptions.

NEVER FORGET—the truth will always hold up to intense scrutiny. Truth is truth. It CAN’T be proven false. So rest easy, truth seekers.

Santa Claus is my favorite example for this conversation.

I was wrong about Santa Claus. I believed totally and completely for about five or six years of my life that an overweight, bearded, jolly man in a bright red suit flew through the air in a sleigh pulled by magic reindeer, and delivered Christmas presents to every well-behaved child on the planet in one night.

I believed that even though I woke up on various Christmas mornings in Iowa, in Ohio, in Missouri, and in Florida when I was little that Santa magically always knew where I was.

I can’t remember what I did last Tuesday, but Santa could keep track of things like that. I was too young to realize that’s even more improbable than flying reindeer.

Santa was real. And there wasn’t a damn thing you could do to convince me otherwise.

Finally a holiday season came along where by that time I’d heard enough rumblings from friends via their older siblings enough times to finally have the breakthrough: Ugh. Our parents are playing Santa. That’s not a shot at parents. Nor a call to destroy childhood innocence, or a sense of wonder which we should all demonstrate no matter what.

But I have to deal in reality. I believed in something I felt certain was true. I later discovered it wasn’t.

Want your relationships to be awesome? Be mindful of the fact that you are capable of wholeheartedly believing in things that aren’t true. That realization allows us to demonstrate the humility necessary to experience healthy intimate relationships and cultivate meaningful, unbreakable friendships.

Jesus Might Not Have Even Practiced Carpentry

Thanks to white European artists becoming famous, having their work spread far and wide, and then having Europeans bring their homeland’s artwork across the Atlantic ocean 250 years ago, I grew up only seeing the images of Jesus I imagine most of you think of when you hear the name “Jesus.”

White guy. Long hair. Piercing eyes.

But Jesus was a Nazarene. He was Middle Eastern. I’m not pretending to know what he looked like. But I think we can safely assume it’s NOT like the images we all grew up seeing in the United States.

I had trouble with that at first. That was a little bit like the Santa thing.

Do you ever think about that no one ever even called him Jesus?

His name was Yeshu’a ben Yosef. After all of the translating from Hebrew-Aramaic into Greek, then to English, you end up with a name that’s the equivalent of Joshua or Jesus.

Christians grow up learning about Jesus working as a carpenter. Despite my juvenile jokes about him possibly doing shoddy carpentry, Jesus was likely not a contractor doing a bunch of framing and finishing work.

The original Greek word was “tekton.” Which is more like “craftsman” or “builder.” And when you start digging into all the word stuff, it’s not hard to see that Jesus may have always been more in the philosopher/teacher/Rabbi line of work “crafting” and “building” the following that evolved into Christian faith.

And if the image of a Middle Eastern man named Yeshu’a not practicing actual carpentry, OR maybe so, but not at a high level, can be so radically different from my lifelong image of Christ, ISN’T IT POSSIBLE THAT HUMAN BEINGS WHO DISAGREE WITH ME ON ANY SUBJECT AREN’T WRONG?

I’m not asking you to doubt your beliefs. I’m not asking you to abandon confidence or faith. And I’m NOT suggesting that your most sacred personal beliefs are like childhood beliefs about Santa.

I’m only asking you to allow yourself to be wrong.


I’m asking you to ask good questions with a curious mind and heart.

Not to create doubt and disconnection. To seek Truth and create lasting connection.

Mentally. Physically. Spiritually. Emotionally. With yourself. With others. With Life that we see and feel on Earth, as well as the Life beyond these bones.

Sometimes there’s Right. Sometimes there’s Wrong.

It’s hard to choose a path when we can’t tell the difference.

21 thoughts on “Maybe Jesus Was a Lousy Carpenter”

    1. Ye of little faith, Mr. Watts!

      I think this is a VERY important conversation about marriage and relationships.

    1. If it’s possible for Jesus to be the savior of the world AND a substandard carpenter, then it’s possible for good men to be shitty husbands.

      It’s possible for good women to have room for improvement in nursing or any other area of life.

      If the most famous being in world history who many consider divinely inspired, if not literally divine, can just be average at forming barn-rafter miter joints, then maybe EVERYONE can demonstrate a bit more humility.

      Maybe everyone can rethink their beliefs and assumptions about others.

      Maybe everyone can take just an extra second to really listen to what someone else is saying and realize it wasn’t so crazy after all.

      I think a lot of good could come from that.

      1. Oh- tons of room for improvement on many fronts.
        The thing I am learning presently though is that the work of improvement does NOT feel like strength at all- it feels like weakness.

        It feels like “I am just going to drag my ass in there and do the best I can”

        You cant really get any better by staying where you are, you get better by the challenge of exploring new things..

        This is true in many arenas- and definitely in our understanding of the world and how we communicate with others, and in relationships.

        I think the concept of being “right” can be detrimental on many fronts.
        Being “right” is the comfort zone. We can feel good about ourselves if we are “right.”

        We can even feel ok about not liking others because of it…

        And on the flip side, the risk of not being right is dangerous. It makes us need to fight for our dignity
        Being wrong is shameful to some extent.

        That pushes humility away, and makes it nearly impossible for anyone to venture out.
        Because if we venture out, we will certainly fail (if we are doing it right..: ).., and then what?

        We would be wrong failures – which is worse than death. So we might as well stay “right” where we are , we may not really live – but at least we are alive!

        If being wrong were a little bit more acceptable, if humility was “cool”, I believe there would be many more occasions of accepting where/when we were wrong, more occasions of listening to others, of asking real questions instead of avoiding them.

        And, in all honesty- I am just as bad about this as most of people on the planet.
        But, maybe today can be a little different, maybe tomorrow can be a little better, and the next day better still…

        1. Oh- a point I was trying to make.
          Accepting when and where you are wrong actually helps to make you right…so why would you purposely avoid that?..

          In that same spirit, I do want to express to anyone who I made feel uncomfortable with some previous exchanges that I agree that some of the things I said were wrong, they were said in the same self righteous view that Matt is talking about.

          All I can say is I am learning, but I am willing to learn.

  1. I have silly arguments with my husband all the time regarding things like actors in movies, or restaurants we ate at that one time, or anything regarding his memory of something versus my memory of something. No! It’s X! No!!! It’s Y! And each of us is SO SURE that we’re right. The moment that I realize that I’m wrong….ooof…earth shattering. I feel like my whole world is flipped upside down and my brain has epically failed me. So…taking that feeling and multiplying by 100 is what I’m sure it feels like when you realize that you could be wrong during the more serious arguments. I haven’t been there yet, but I need to. I need to sit in that idea and let that shit wash over me. Ugh…sounds terrifying. (I remember when I found out Santa wasn’t real. I shut myself in my bedroom for an entire day while I dealt with it. Earth shattering.)

    1. Some of my most uncomfortable memories from my marriage are the ones centered around those EXACT same conversations.

      I was right sometimes. Wrong others. What’s the difference, though? I took an opportunity to grow the connection between my wife and I, and I frittered it away to be a cocky shit-eater. To win some 100%-inconsequential debate over things I can’t, and will never, remember.

      It’s insane.

      And it can’t happen again. And I hope others won’t let it happen to them.

      Thank you for contributing this, because it really resonates with me, and I’m sure many others will feel the same.

      1. You bet! Luckily, my husband and I have gotten to a place where the results of these little “memory competitions” get laughed off instead of taken personally. Because you’re right…who cares!? Side note/question: Have you seen the movie ‘Risen’? Most realistic Jesus casting to date, in my opinion.

  2. This Matt is what I need to hear over and over again. So if you feel like you are being repetitive I’d like to encourage you that some of us need it. I grew up in a crazy making situation that left me with a horrible tendency to all or nothing thinking. Either I must be 100% correct or I am completely wrong, worthless, bad you name it.

    There simply is no having a healthy relationship when you think this way. My Ex to be did some very crappy things in our marriage. I know this because lots of people who are not me agree they were bad things. Things like cheating. BUT I did bad things too. Things like insisting that I and only I was right about something when we both could have been right and both wrong at the same time. My Bad does not excuse or justify his – no more than his excuses mine – we both have to own our own crap.

    Understanding that you can be both dead right and dead wrong at the same time – or even shades of both – intellectually is not that hard for me. Internalizing it – living it – is. So I will gladly listen to you talk about it as many times as you are willing to repeat it. Thanks!

    1. “Understanding that you can be both dead right and dead wrong at the same time – or even shades of both – intellectually is not that hard for me. Internalizing it – living it – is.”


      I wish the process of getting to where I really embody that knowing, and act from it and have it show up in my attitude and my emotions the majority of the time were quicker though. Seems like A LOT of repetition is necessary.

  3. Matt, you are so clear and honest! As I have learned to apologize for being righteous (just did it yesterday with my grown daughter) I realize that being wrong is OK. It makes me human. And likable…if I take responsibility for it.

  4. Lol, I’ll have you know Matt, I am never “right” in marriage. I just don’t frame things that way, so there are no arguments about movies or actors or Santa Claus. That’s marriage though, I let him “win” all those discussions, because the goal is not being right, it is relationship and connection. I really want to hear how he perceives things, what he sees.

    In the rest of life however, I am not as invested in relationship and connection so I can be pretty devastating in debates. I will unleash links, flow charts, and pictures, too. And, I am always right, at least 80% of the time. 🙂

    Hubby doesn’t stand a chance in a debate with me, so we actually had to learn early on that what I really want with him is connection, and what he really wants with me is to be admired for who is.

  5. Matt, I am disappointed, but hardly surprised.

    “I insist we not have any religious or theological discussions on the matter. Because that’s not the point.

    The point is: You’re a human being. “

    You use the example of Jesus, who Christians generally believe to be the Son of God in the form of a human being, and you seriously expect no religious or theological discussion?

    “The original Greek word was “tekton.” Which is more like “craftsman” or “builder.” And when you start digging into all the word stuff, it’s not hard to see that Jesus may have always been more in the philosopher/teacher/Rabbi line of work “crafting” and “building” the following that evolved into Christian faith.”

    In the context of the two New Testament descriptions of Jesus as tekton, it seems quite clear that those who heard Him speak found His teaching to be completely out of line with their expectations of Him. Thus, I think it unlikely that Jesus had been involved in “philosopher/teacher/Rabbi” work prior to His ministry.

    I believe it was a very poor choice to try to use Jesus to show that “it’s possible for good men to be shitty husbands”, or, as I would prefer to see it stated, “it’s possible for a good person to be a dreadful spouse”.

    1. As long as you spend a little time considering that you don’t know everything, and that you don’t always see the perspective of others, and that you flat-out have your facts wrong sometimes, I’ll live with that.

      Thanks for trying to make it theological even though I requested we not!

      1. I doubt it was intended that way, but the first paragraph of your response seemed to be a personal attack. Of course, I’m not perfect and I’m well aware of that.

        It does seem a little inconsistent that you would choose to use Jesus but request avoidance of related argument. I got your point, but continue to think it would have been better if you had chosen another example rather than using a dubious argument to support your example of Jesus. As you said, it’s very possible to have your facts wrong sometimes.

        For what it’s worth, I’m not sure that I’ve heard Jesus’ occupation questioned before. It was an interesting exercise to me. In fact, I did consider that I don’t know everything and found that what I thought was fact is not so certain.

        1. Most certainly not intended as a personal attack. I remember writing that comment. I was in the middle of running out the door to get to the office a couple of days ago.

          I can see how it reads like that. I was totally being a little sarcastic in that last line, but not the top.

          The top was absolutely sincere.

          My entire foundation is rooted in Christianity. There’s never been a point in my life where that wasn’t true (aside from occasionally suspect non-Jesusy behavior, certainly).

          I don’t remember how it happened, but one of my co-workers who shares my enthusiasm for juvenile jokes and I were joking about Jesus being just a so-so carpenter. Like the guy you hire to do the ceramic tile in your bathroom, and it’s mostly good, but there’s that one corner or grout spot that leaves a little to be desired.

          It’s funny. I think, at least.

          There’s no reason to think Jesus’ moral flawlessness extended to his carpentry skills. He would have been the undisputed greatest builder of all time, and I have a difficult time believing more wouldn’t have been said about it.

          As it’s not written about much, and as Christ lived a modest existence financially, I think it’s safe to assume that either A. Things might be getting a little lost in translation RE: the Greek word Tekton, or B. Jesus might have just been a run-of-the-mill carpenter/builder.

          I’m making a dispassionate observation.

          I think it makes Christians uncomfortable, certainly. It made me uncomfortable to deal with it.

          But discomfort feelings from making our brains work strikes me as an important and healthy exercise. That’s not something I’ll apologize for.

          The juxtaposition of Jesus, the divine Son of God (which I hope it’s clear to you that I’m in no way challeging) possibly being just a run-of-the-mill worker is potent.

          When you’re praying for mercy, forgiveness, wisdom, guidance, help, etc. from the same being who might have poorly executed a miter joint or two, it forces you to challenge your own beliefs and assumptions.

          NOT about faith.

          About ANYTHING.

          If you’ve never considered that the Central Figure in your personal life, whose teachings have guided all of your choices for as long as you can remember, might have done and experienced things never before thought of, then WHAT ELSE might you have never considered about your life, about your thoughts, about your feelings, about how you perceive the world, about how others perceive you, about how maybe there are some things that you think/feel/do that are incorrect, or rooted in false assumptions, or that impact others in ways previously foreign to you?

          That’s not for you, specifically. That’s the royal “you.” That’s me and you, and our friends, and everyone who has ever walked this earth.

          Human beings are frequently THOUGHTLESS, self-absorbed, self-centered, inherently biased. Not in a “bad” or “mean” way. Just in an accidental, doesn’t-know-better way.

          We all think we’re right all of the time.

          THAT lack of awareness and humility in our daily actions (which we all mindlessly perform with little deliberate thought attached) is that same lack of awareness and humility which cause people to accidentally mistreat people they love.

          That accidental mistreatment is what causes divorce.

          That accidental mistreatment is what causes families to break.

          That accidental mistreatment is what causes children to grow up psychologically and emotionally ill-equipped to have healthy relationships themselves.

          Wash. Rinse. Repeat.

          And you wake up in 2016 with the state of the world being what it is.

          This is so important.

          This is so dangerous. This nuanced, often unnoticed taking-everything-for-granted thing most of us do. About our money, and possessions, and blessings, and opportunities, and more importantly, all of the people who matter most to us.

          We walk around this world thinking we have a handle on things. And we accidentally damage others, our relationships, and ourselves through this lack of self-awareness.

          For everyone like me familiar with the Jesus of Nazareth story, or for everyone like me who has been on their knees making requests, apologies or expressions of thanks… It’s a powerful moment.

          Realizing Jesus might not have been the best table maker. Or roof builder. Or whatever. Maybe Jesus was just average at it.

          When you’re me, an idea like that expands your mind to consider other possibilities.

          Not about theology and the mysteries of the universe. I’ll leave those problems to people who are smarter and better than I.

          But about how recognizing and exercising constant awareness of our flawed humanity might be able to save us from ourselves.

          If we KNOW we don’t have all the answers, and we KNOW we don’t always get things right or understand everything, then just maybe, we can approach those we love with the type of humility and disposition needed to make love grow, rather than kill it.

          And when enough people have that realization, the entire world will be different.

          And I think Jesus, no matter how amazing or substandard his carpentry work might have been, is going to think that’s a pretty great thing.

          I pray for the wisdom and grace to play a tiny part in that effort.

          Which is all this post was.

  6. Interesting. The hubs and I have had some very difficult and uncomfortable (for me, anyway) conversations surrounding religion (and politics, to be fair.) He’s done what he considers extensive reading and studying on the subject, and says quite often that he gets frustrated because people “just believe what they were taught as kids and don’t question anything.” My answer is along the lines of “maybe they asked themselves the same questions, studied the same materials, and just came to different conclusions.”

    He’s not getting that – that two intelligent, logical people can view the same data and end up with different answers.

    It’s been better lately, but…sigh.

    I don’t know if I ever truly believed in Santa. To me it was an elaborate game where everyone, adults and children alike, were involved in a great scheme of pretend. Which was still pretty darn magical.

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Matt Fray

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