Balinvreena Hill in South County Limerick looks down on a verdant and fertile plain, not used much for tillage but providing lush grass for the dairy herds so prevalent around. The parish of Bulgaden-Martinstown goes right up to the foot of the hill. This is where I spent many a happy summer as a small child in the late 1940’s and early 1950’s. Things were simple then. One of the parishioners was a man called Patrick Corkery. With his brother “Little Jim” he had a carpenter’s shop and a few acres of land. The house was always a happy place where their sister, Nellie, kept a pot of boiling water over the open fire ready to make a fresh pot of tea for any visitor who came in through the open door.
For a child the shop was a source of wonder and delight. All sorts of things were being made and repaired – doors, windows, wheels for horse-carts, “floats” – hay carts used for drawing in wynds/trams of hay into the barn at the end of the summer.
In the chapel of the Pallottine College in Thurles there is a stained glass window of Jesus and Joseph working in another carpenter’s shop but this time in Nazareth. What was it like? Did they have a sign over the door? “Joseph and Jeshu’a” or even “Joseph and Son”? What did they make? We have some idea from the sayings of Jesus – wooden pitchers for water; tables; chairs; tubs (containers for seeds and foods); and lamp stands. Did they, by any chance, make or repair boats by the Sea of Galilee; make wooden ploughs for farmers; oxen yokes; or frames for carrying two pails of water at the one time? Were they also coopers – making barrels?
It is possible that Joseph and Jesus went from town to town repairing or building houses made of stone. In the speech of Jesus there are building metaphors – “splinter in your brother’s eye”, the “log in your own eye”. He talks about digging firm foundations and “building a house on a solid rock”.
And, while we never think of this, we know that Joseph and Jesus sold things. They got paid for their work; otherwise how could they survive? We don’t think that it is “nice” to think of Jesus handling money but he must have been a good business man. He spoke of coppers, shekels, a denarius, talents and silver pieces.
So the romantic Jesus of our imagination turns out to be a real working man. Not as poor as we always imagined him but honest, hard-working and dependable. Educated by Joseph and the other men of the village, Jesus had an oral knowledge of the Old Testament scriptures and a speaking knowledge of Syro-Aramaic and, most probably, Greek, the commercial language of the Roman Empire.
St. Vincent Pallotti always had a devotion to the “hidden life of Jesus”. In this he gives us a good insight. The sheer ordinariness of the life of Jesus should be an inspiration and an encouragement to us all, especially in these dark days of recession when many young people from our cities, towns and villages, have to leave home to find work. Some of them are our own relatives. Jesus too left home and transferred from Nazareth to Capernaum, where he may have lived in the house of Simon and Andrew or built his own house. To complete his work he needed a new headquarters so that he could be free for the mission given him by his Father.
It is hard to make sense of a mystery. We believe that Jesus came because he loved us. The Apostle Peter tells us that “evil men” put him to death by hanging him on a tree. Jesus could have used his godly powers to crush those people. That is what we would have done. But he didn’t. Why? Surely he was giving an example for us to follow. Evil is not overcome by counteracting it with more evil. It is only overcome by more and more good acts.
Pope Paul VI in an address on 5 January 1964 stated that the home of Nazareth is the school where we begin to understand the life of Jesus. God in Jesus revealed himself to the world through the use of a place, Nazareth in Galilee. Jesus came at a certain time, 6.00 b.c to 28 a.d. approx. He practised the Jewish life-style and observed its customs. Most probably he spoke with an accent, the rough dialect of the Galileans. He engaged in certain religious practices, pilgrimages to Jerusalem and so forth.
Montini held up for us the value of silence, detachment from the noise of this world, which in turn gives us more time to reflect on spiritual things. He further went on to praise family life, and stated that the formation received at home is gentle and irreplaceable. The Pope would have liked also to restore the awareness of the nobility of work and its intrinsic value when it is considered in the context of those for whom it is undertaken. Pope Paul held up Jesus as the model for all the workers of the world. He is truly their brother in God.
Donal McCarthy, S.C.A.