Three Exemplary Jesus Practices about Money and Work

Three job sectors. Our job tasks range across a wide spectrum, classified into three main working sectors: public (working for government), private not-for-profit (civic, moral, and religious organizations that rely on donations for all or part of their operating budgets), and private for-profit (various small and large businesses in the marketplace). Table 8.1 provides estimates of the percentages of the 2010 U.S. total workforce. Musing on these differing percentages yields insight about two issues.  First, some may wonder, with so much greed in the for-profit sector, how can Christians affirm business? Of course, a greater number of cases of greed and corruption will likely occur in the for-profit sector due to the vast majority of people working in this sector. Such evil also occurs routinely in other sectors since greed is a matter of the human heart (Mk 7:21-22), as reported somewhat regularly in the news.  Second, one need not be a rocket scientist to recognize a basic economic principle: a much higher percentage of the workforce is essential in the business sector (currently around 80 percent) to sustain financial support for the continued existence of the other two sectors. Can Christians recognize how important good businesses are for creating the wealth that sustains charities and government services?

 

Table 8.1 Three Sectors of the United States Total Workforce—2010 Data

 

Jesus and business. Do we realize that Jesus worked at a “secular” job for most of his young adult years? We might have expected a different career path and preparation for the one who would be Messiah. As was customary for boys in that day, Jesus was probably apprenticed alongside his father Joseph.  His former neighbors knew Jesus by his previous trade: “Isn’t this the tektōn?” (Mk 6:3; Mt 13:55). Tektōn has been rendered as “carpenter” since William Tyndale’s English Bible translation (1526). Yet Ken Campbell suggests “builder” as a more accurate translation. “In the context of first-century Israel, the tektōn was a general craftsman who worked with stone, wood, and sometimes metal in large and small building projects.”10

If apprenticed at the customary age of twelve, then Jesus spent at least eighteen years as a builder, six times as long as his public ministry (see table 8.2). Tradition suggests that his father Joseph died a few years prior to Jesus entering public ministry. During that time, then, Jesus headed up the family building business, implying Jesus’ primary responsibility for financially supporting the family (Matt 13:55-56). Darrel Bock notes, “Only artisans or other craftspeople had the ancient equivalent of small, independent businesses. They constituted a minority of the labor force.”11 For Jesus’ family to work in a trade indicates they were in the lower middle-income class of that day.12

 

Table 8.2 Jesus’ 18 years in the Building Trade

Almost 50% of Jesus’ parables have a “business setting” (see Table 8.3). Perhaps some aspects of these stories had a personal connection. For example, when teaching on the cost of discipleship, Jesus mentions one should have the funds at the start to complete a tower (Lk 14:28). Might Jesus have built a tower for a customer but never have been fully paid?

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