By REV. FR. VICTOR OKHIRIA, Assistant Parish Priest, Catholic Church of The Assumption, Falomo, Lagos.
Once upon a time in a lowly and humble town, emerged a young boy, the only child of his parents. His Jewish father was a very well-known man since his occupation revolved around the market place. Now, in Jewish culture of that time [1st Century] it was required of fathers to teach their sons their own profession or trade [in addition to their sons’ formal education], between the ages of five to ten [5-10] years. Definitely, this Jewish man adhered to this practice and taught his son his occupation but as the young boy becomes a man, he has his own ambitions and prospects. This grown up man went to the synagogue on the Jewish day to worship God as it was his weekly practice and being a frequent worshipper, he was invited to read from the scriptures by the president of the synagogue who had the authority to choose those who would read from the Torah. In a loud and clear voice, he reads from an ancient prophecy that announces liberation to all those in those in bondage; a liberation that is far greater than the Exodus from Egypt and the return from Babylon. When he finished reading, he sat down to instruct them; oh yes! He would instruct them because they had heard how wonderfully he had preached in the neighbouring towns while he worshipped in their synagogues, and since he was in his hometown synagogue, he was accorded the honour to teach. When he was done, there was a deathly silence in the synagogue and all eyes were fixed on him… The mood of the crowd shifts dramatically, they were amazed to a depth that they questioned “is he not the carpenter’s son?” [Luke 4:22; Matt 13:55]. His father Joseph was a carpenter but also he, Jesus, was a carpenter by Tradition.
On Good Friday, this carpenter was crucified on the cross; the most painful and shameful form of capital punishment in the ancient world. How awesome it is that the whole world mourns the execution of a local carpenter. As much as this is horrific and touching, yet the seeming paradox has profound vantage points and highlights to conceive of the cross as the basis of the salvation of humanity.
The cross usually was made of wood, the primary material of any and every carpenter by which they exhibit their craftsmanship. Therefore, it makes sense that Jesus, from the beginning and according to the plan of God, should be a carpenter, who, when presented with the wood of the cross embraces it to fashion out beautifully the salvation of you, me and the entire world. How wonderful that right from time, he had prepared himself for this glorious task, when the whole world looks upon a local carpenter to build for them a link to their creator.
Anyone who knows a little about carpentry knows that the skills of constructing involved hand tools and power tools. Traditionally, carpenters used their hands and their brute strength to construct buildings and carve tables. Hence this valiant carpenter is handed a heavy and rough edged cross [which is symbolic of the altered, ugly and bitter relationship between God and humanity consequent upon sin]. Jesus would not reject this threatening cross but begins to work on it at his workshop; his workshop was not a static or confined location but the very road which he walked to Calvary, the Via Dolorosa. The Stations of the Cross as we do at 12 noon on Good Friday, was the means by which he began reshaping the cross. Like every carpenter planes the wood to smoothen all rough edges, so also we see the body of Jesus, plane and smoothen that heavy rugged cross as the wood rocks and kisses his back. His flesh is torn and some parts peel off and fall to the ground like sawdust. The body of our Lord is shredded while the wood undergoes a refining process. He puts his whole strength and energy to this course that the cross should be a befitting one to behold once he was done.
Did you notice his blood smear the wood? This bloody picture was very necessary and only when we peek deeply into the skills of this carpenter do we see the two fold meaning of his blood on the wood of the cross. Firstly, like every carpenter uses the wood preservative to protect the wood against attack by fungi, bacteria and insects, his blood pours on the wood of the cross to ward off the attack of the termites of sin and the darkness of evil from affecting it. Secondly, as it is proper and necessary that wood finishing be taken seriously, different materials [oil, varnish, alcohol but to mention a few] are applied onto the wood to keep it clean, stabilise it and decorate it. The blood of Jesus pours onto the cross as a polish spray for the wood that “the old rugged cross would have a wondrous attraction for you and me, that we may cherish it and cling to it”.
By his blood on the cross, Christ Jesus makes all things new; through the release of his blood, humanity was also released from sin. The New Testament speaks of the salvific nature of Christ’s blood and reading from Hebrews 9:12-14, almost everything is purified by blood and without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness. Thus, by the “pouring out” of his blood and its consecration to God, Christ’s atonement for sin is achieved; the passion of Christ accomplishes its purpose of conversion, renewal and redemption, the threefold dimension of the grace and power of this carpenter’s cross.
(Watch out for Part 2!!!)