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Starting Point

Jesus’ friends are his masterpiece


Jesus was only 5 and a half years old when he began to spend countless hours standing next to Joseph, his father, watching and learning the art of carpentry. He studied the delicate movements of his father’s hands, the intricate details of his craftsmanship. Jesus learned to be an artist from those earliest years, a lover of beauty.

One day during those early years, Joseph purchased a large trunk of fine hardwood, more than 6 feet tall, and he gave it as a gift to the young apprentice, along with a few simple tools of the trade. From the moment Joseph gave the gift to him, Jesus knew it would be the great masterpiece of his life. He, of course, did not know how that would become a reality, but something moved deep within him that day and he trusted the intuition.

His life unfolded quite naturally, like the other young boys of Nazareth. Slowly he began to make the first cuttings into the trunk his father had given him. There was no clear plan, just the call to be an artist, a lover of beauty. The years passed, and before long he found himself immersed in the religious life of his people. Some called him a prophet, others a blasphemer, but nothing kept him from the slow, intricate work of art he had begun years before. Every word of hope he spoke to sinners and the outcast, every gesture and healing embrace he offered the poor led to a new, delicate touch carved into the great trunk. He was becoming an artist almost without realizing it.

The final days of his life, as his mission neared the end, Jesus’ body was anointed with precious perfume by Mary of Bethany. Later, gathered with his friends around the paschal table, Jesus’ body again was the centerpiece as he broke the bread and invited his followers to “take and eat this, my body, which is given up for you.” The next day Jesus was tortured and nailed to a cross. And finally his limp body was taken from the cross by Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, prepared for burial and laid to rest in a tomb.

It was these final days of intensity and profound love that allowed Jesus to chisel and carve the last details into the great trunk that had been part of his journey from boyhood. Emerging during those days of passion and artistry was the pristine beauty of a human figure, filled with a unique dignity, created in the image of God. There were no blemishes, nothing lacking. Jesus had chiseled into wood what God the Creator had formed from the clay of the earth “in the beginning.” Jesus’ work was finished.

Early in the morning of the third day, the women hastened to the tomb to see the body of their crucified friend and teacher. “He is not here,” were the words they heard from the lips of an angel. The body is gone. It is no more. “He is risen.”

He was gone. The impact of his absence was stunning. And yet, in the hours and days that followed, his disciples and friends remembered their master’s great work of art. That pristine beauty carved by the hands of Jesus seemed to come alive within the small band of disciples. Yes! They were aware that they had become the emerging human figure, that delicate masterpiece of Jesus’ hands, the New Creation of God. “He is not here,” the angel had said. “But we are here. We are his body now.”

A new awareness was born among the friends of Jesus: We who walk the pilgrim path, embracing the sick and lifting up the poor, we who break bread with the sinner and announce the Good News, we know that he is here because we are here. His name is “I am,” and we glimpse his presence each time our eyes are opened to the truth of who we are — the Risen Body of Christ, the New Creation chiseled and crafted by the hands of the Carpenter of Nazareth.

Dominican Fr. Brian J. Pierce is working among the Q’eqchi’ indigenous people of Guatemala.

National Catholic Reporter, April 30, 1999