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  • Writer's pictureAdina

Two Carpenters

Updated: Apr 20, 2022

Christmas marks the child’s birth. The boy grew up in Nazareth, a carpenter by trade.

Ram Krishna sits cross-legged on a make-shift platform of 4x4 timbers. A blue tarp shelters his workspace from the monsoon rain and afternoon sun. He holds the sharp chisel in his left hand and a heavy mallet in his right. Tap, tap, tap.

I sit on the low cement step leading into our ground-floor apartment, cradling my 18-month-old son as we watch the carpenter at work. He is still thin and pale two months after his time in the hospital with croup. Yet he watches attentively, waiting for a chance to pick up Krishna’s mallet when he lays it down.

Our playhouse carpenter wears the traditional Nepali men’s kurta durwal, loose cotton trousers and a matching long tunic, although he wears a t-shirt to work in under his tunic so he can keep his tunic clean. His peaked topi (hat) is also as traditional as they come, made of Dhaka cloth. The colorful geometric-patterned cloth is traditionally woven by the Limbu-speaking communities of eastern Nepal. But Krishna is Newari from the nearby temple city of Bhaktapur, home to Nepal’s most gifted carpenters and carvers. A red splash of vermillion tikka powder on his forehead shows he has been to one of the many-tiered temples before coming to work. Each morning he travels eight miles from his house to ours to work on the Newari-style gazebo—a place for the children to play and a home for the three old Newari windows I recently rescued from a demolition project.

Krishna builds the structure without the benefit of electric tools or metal nails. With a handsaw, chisel, and mallet he fashions wooden pegs and fits the 4x4 timbers together like a puzzle: four notched beams to form the corner pillars, four more to support the floor several inches off the damp slate pavestones, and hand-chiseled wooden pegs to hold it together. The corner posts will hold the old windows in place. They were once fitted into the upper story of a brick home.

Thirty pieces of wood make up each window. Eight pieces for the frame, six for the solid lower panel, six for the middle screen that holds ten slats in place. The upper half of the window is open, though many windows of the same era were screened for privacy with a lattice of intricate, carved wood. The wood of these windows is still sound, but faded and soft at the edges from years of weather.

The gazebo is a joint collaboration, blending memories of my childhood playhouses and the traditional craft of the Newari carpenter.

One day, while the children played, I sat and stared at the nearly completed playhouse. What was missing?

Then I saw it, the four corner beams were plain, lacking the elaborate carvings of typical Newari woodwork. Every beam of every temple or home has at least some carving of dragons, fish, flowers, or Hindu deities. No piece of wood escaped the carvers' sharp blades.

“Krishna daai, is it too late to carve flowers on the corner posts?” I asked in Nepali. I knew no Newari words.

And because Krishna used no nails until the blue metal roof was attached, we were free to disassemble the structure, load the posts on a cart, and send them to a wood carver in Bhaktapur.

Do you know any carpenters? In Nepal, they fix things that are broken and build things you’ve imagined. They are strong, attentive to detail, good with their hands, hard-working. They are indispensable. Jesus was a carpenter by trade.

In the Old Testament, carpenters, stone masons, and weavers played key roles in building, maintaining, and restoring the Jewish Temple. Yet they were never in positions of power or leadership. Those were reserved for kings, priests, and warriors. Their role was to fulfill the visions of others. The same is true in Nepal. Newari carpenters belong to the Vaishya craftsman’s caste. A craftsman would never serve in the role of Brahmin priest.

Jesus faced a similar stigma. When he returned to his hometown of Nazareth and began teaching in the synagogue, those who heard him were amazed. They asked, “Where did he get all this wisdom and the power to perform such miracles?” Then they laughed at him. They could not believe because they thought they knew him. To them he was just Mary’s son, the oldest of five brothers and several sisters.

Yet Jesus had wisdom greater than the learned religious teachers, even as a boy. Everyone who met him wrestled with the question: “Who is this man?”

Jesus answered this question in many ways: He said I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life; I am the good Shepherd who lays down his life for his sheep; I and my Father in Heaven are one. He never described himself as a carpenter.

In his message on the hillside overlooking the Sea of Galilee, however, Jesus used two images from the carpenter’s craft. He challenged his followers to examine themselves before offering advice or criticizing someone else and then gave the comic illustration, “How can you think of saying, ‘Friend, let me help you get that speck of sawdust out of your eye,' when you can’t see past the 2x4 in your own eye!”

He also told the parable about the three little pigs, or rather, the parable of the wise and the foolish builders. Like the pig who built his house of straw, the foolish builder built on the unstable sand. His house collapsed under pressure of the storm. The wise builder was like the pig who built a brick house and even gave refuge to his brothers when the wolf had destroyed their homes of straw and sticks. Jesus explained, “He is like the person who comes to me, listens to my teaching, and follows it.”

To build on the rock takes time to be anchored to the rock. Jesus made it clear, he was not just describing good building practices, he alone is that Rock, the stone that the foolish builders reject who will be a sure foundation in the storms of life.

In his life and death, Jesus set the example of a carpenter who faithfully fulfilled God’s master plan of redemption through a life of complete surrender. In the same breath as when he called himself the Bread of Life, Jesus said, “I have come down from heaven to do the will of God who sent me, not to do my own will.” (John 6:38) God’s plan would be completed not merely in Jesus’ life and teaching, but by his death and resurrection.

Many times Jesus’ words and actions offended the religious leaders who opposed him. He puzzled even his followers who loved his miracles but feared for his safety. Jesus reassured them: “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God, believe also in me. My father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you?”

Krishna, the Newari carpenter, built a beautiful gazebo playhouse to save the old Newari windows and to shelter our children on rainy days. It was built in a year of great upheaval. Two months before he began construction, the small Himalayan country was shaken by the unbelievable Royal Massacre on June 1st where the king and eight other members of the royal family were murdered. Only a few weeks after the playhouse was completed, and before any time to recover from the massacre, news broke of the September 11 attack on the World Trade Center in New York. We were living in very uncertain times.

But we put our hope in the simple carpenter from Galilee who entered a world of heartbreak to fulfill God’s beautiful plan of restoration. Our lives and relationships—broken by rebellion—find new life in his loving hands.

The people asked, “Who is this man?” Some turned away from the carpenter. And some turned to follow him and found a Savior.

Read about the people who thought they knew Jesus in Mark 6:1-4.

Read what Jesus said for yourself. You can find his carpenter metaphors in Luke’s shortened account of Jesus' Sermon on the Mount.

Use the ABC method to get the most out of reading these passages. For each section, choose:

1. A title to describe that section

2. Best Verse: Which verse speaks to you the most?

3. Challenge: How can you apply this verse to your situation?

Ten years later...a family portrait in our favorite Newari gazebo.

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Jan 29, 2022

I love the way you give family happenings and tie them into spiritual truths. Thank you!!! I look forward to the rest of the series!!!!


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