the Artist known as Jesus


One of my favorite attributes of God (apart from him being love) is his artisan spirit. Being alone with God’s Creation is when I feel most intimate with him. Especially at that the magical time of twilight. When light becomes three dimensional bringing all the colors of the forest beyond my front yard, slowly dancing to their last crescendo of day, I need no convincing of the composer. Furthermore, my imagination will take me to how God made this beautiful place we call home. It’s an appealing image thinking of a God meticulously painting the Robin and the Rainbow Trout, giggling with satisfaction at his work. Or even making us, piecing together different parts of who we are, stepping back, stroking his chin, and then curling his lips to a smile shouting “YES!” The God of art speaks deeply into my soul.

The other day, I was researching into the historical Jesus (always a fascinating study), particularly, what he did for the thirty years prior to beginning his ministry. Having heard the classic “carpenter” tale, I decided to look more deeply into what that meant in its historical context. Turns out, Jesus may not have been a carpenter at all! This is huge! Certainly it’s not the central part of Christ’s story, but its how we have always assessed his pre-ministry life.

“Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him.”

–       Mark 6:3 (emphasis mine)

The word carpenter in this passage derives from the original Greek word Tekton, which, in its historical context, could mean that Jesus was a designer, architect, builder of bridges and so on. What I am trying to say is- whether carpenter or architect- Jesus was truly an artist.

As an architect, he would clearly need to see things through a symbolic lens. A porch was not a porch, it was a place where both greeters of good news and messengers of misery would stand. He had to have a keen eye and creative spirit that accommodated aesthetics and honored the foundation it was built upon.

As a carpenter, he was no less an artist. Perhaps, he was even more of one. If he made tables and chairs, you can imagine him sweating over sanding a surface. Deciding on how large a table should be and how tall, and what impression it would make upon guests. The design of the chairs themselves required a sensitivity to his customers (likely poor folks), by not giving them an appearance of luxury.

These early years provided Jesus with an aptitude for inspiration. And we see their fruits in his teaching.

Think about his preoccupation with parables. He answered arduous questions through the telling of fictional stories. Renowned Biblical Scholar, Peter Enns, reflected on this in an article on the Biologos Forum:

“Speaking in parables is indeed similar to an artist’s craft. Neither are systematic, logical arguments aimed at intellectual persuasion. Rather, they create impressions, whole new worlds of meaning intended to turn old worlds on their heads. Further, they do not always clarify, but actually can by design obscure a deeper reality. To apprehend that deeper reality, one must—like a patron facing a timeless painting—continue to seek, ponder, and meditate on what is being said.

As a storyteller, Jesus uprooted his audience and dropped them into a world that went by another order. Instead of simply telling them what the Kingdom of God was, he saw it better to show them, through incredibly vivid imagery (remember the camel trying to go through the eye of a needle?) He was a poet, in addition to being a craftsman.

Even more fascinating is the idea of Jesus, being a work of art. I know I know, we are all masterpieces from God, but think about Jesus as being what the Sistine Chapel was to Michealangelo. Or Starry Night to Davinci. God created an icon in his son, one that would be celebrated and expressed for all future generations. Christ’s life has evoked emotion for centuries now, and has been emulated over and over on canvas and through stone.

BeliefNet posted an article about Oscar Wilde’s thoughts on Jesus. His insights were brilliant.

“To the artist, expression is the only mode under which he can conceive life at all,” wrote Wilde. “To him what is dumb is dead. But to Christ it was not so. With a width and wonder of imagination that fills one almost with awe, he took the entire world of the inarticulate, the voiceless world of pain, as his kingdom, and made of himself its eternal mouthpiece. 

“…And feeling, with the artistic nature of one to whom suffering and sorrow were modes through which he could realize his conception of the beautiful, that an idea is of no value till it becomes incarnate and is made an image, he made of himself the image of the Man of Sorrows, and as such has fascinated and dominated art as no Greek god ever succeeded in doing.” –Oscar Wilde (as quoted by Dan Wakefield)

Keep in mind, this was written by a fellow runaway. Wilde was shamed by the church because of his sexual orientation. Classic tale of the tortured artist.

The gorgeous words Jesus spoke provoked a generation to rethink eternity. It brought religious bullies to their knees, and lifted up the lost. He stirred our imaginations and thus, revived an old language between God and man. We share with Him in our love for the creative, inventive, strange, and unique. The artistic passions of our creator provide for us the energy needed to challenge old ideas. To dream about what Kingdom Come looks like.

All we need to do is open our eyes to his glory.