Several friends of mine are in Israel at the moment, visiting various biblical sites. Their photos on Facebook are giving me happy memories of a study trip I made there several years ago. But today I was particularly struck in a fresh way by an image from Sepphoris via my Aussie friend Malcolm Potts (who, as it happens, coined the phrase ‘kairos kisses’).
Sepphoris was a Roman city built in Galilee during Jesus’ lifetime. Thanks to King James’ Authorised Version of the Bible, we have inherited a cultural image of Jesus as a carpenter from Nazareth; but a more accurate translation of ‘tekton’ would be builder. As Sepphoris was a major building project within easy walking distance of Nazareth, we can be almost certain that Joseph and his apprentice would have found work there.
I’ve often found understanding Jesus to have been a builder by trade to be a rich resource. It teases the account of four friends who tear up the flat roof of the house Jesus lived in for a while at Capernaum, in order to lower their paralytic friend down into Jesus’ presence: having forgiven the man’s sins and restored him to health, did Jesus forgive the friends’ trespass, re-constructing the roof? It illuminates his stated intention, on the night he was betrayed, to go to build an extension on his father’s house for his bride – the Church – and then return for us. It adds something to Peter’s metaphor of the Church as living stones being built into a temple. It resonates with the expansion of the local church through the ‘oikos,’ or extended family home.
But though I knew that, in all probability, Jesus had worked on the building of Sepphoris, it had never struck me before that he might have laid some of its famous mosaics. After all, the mosaic was a Roman decoration. But today, this struck me as being deeply significant:
Jesus was a builder, who took the broken little pieces – perhaps even broke some larger pieces himself – and brought them together, side-by-side, to create beautiful pictures...