The Carpenter's Gift
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The Olive Wood Cross
Marsha Sue Pitman
Jesus knew why He was on earth. He had seen the road that lay before Him, and had spent His entire life preparing for this journey to fulfill His destiny. His stomach cringed with dread to think about it. After all, He was a man. He was The Son of God, conceived by the Holy Spirit within a virgin, true, but born on earth in the full form of a man. Jesus's time grew near and His heart was troubled. Many things weighed like heavy stone upon his mind, because He knew that His fated path would profoundly affect not only Himself, but those that loved Him, most especially His beloved Mother.
Jesus was a man of humble birth, born to common parents, in Bethlehem, City of David, in a lowly stable, where a hay-lined manger served as His bed. His given name was Jesus. His step-father, Joseph, was a descendant from the lineage of David, a gentle, soft-spoken man of strong spirit, a carpenter by trade, and His mother, Mary, was a beautiful young woman of sweet, sincere heart and pure spirit. They were devout Jews, thus He was raised in the ways of traditional Jews, being diligently educated in Scripture, Hebrew, and Jewish doctrine. Jesus had worked with Joseph as a carpenter's apprentice since the age of fifteen and had come to love working with wood.
He had been a good and obedient son, preparing. He was soon to turn 30, when His ministry would begin and thoughts of events to come plagued Him, not only for Himself, but for His mother. Jesus knew the journey ahead would not be easy for either of them. He wished He could spare her, but knew deep within His spirit that it was not possible. Mary had been aptly chosen by His Heavenly Father, and she had been the perfect mother. Jesus loved her deeply, and pondered the pain she would face to witness the torture and execution of her own son, an experience that would shatter any mother's heart. Jesus searched His soul to find some way to protect her.
Then the idea came to Him, and it seemed divinely inspired. Jesus would make her a gift, designed and carved by His own hand, from the finest of wood. He would carve for her an amulet, a symbol of His eternal Love that she could wear on a soft leather chord around her neck, where it would rest forever close to her heart. He would bless it with divine power to comfort her in her deepest sorrow, to give her a constant sense of His abiding Presence. Yes, that was it. Jesus sat pondering the kind of wood he would use, planning the design of this special gift. It had to be perfect, and a tide of ideas tumbled around in His head.
When He was but a young lad of five, He had sat for hours watching His step-father carve little figures with fascination. In awe, He would watch many fine chunks of wood take shape in his father's deft hands, as delicate, intricate features soon gave identity to the little carvings. Jesus couldn't wait until He, too, could carve and dreamed of all the wonderful little things He would make. When He turned seven, his father presented Him with His very own knife for carving, a sharp, small tool that fit snugly into his little hand, and a stone with which to sharpen it after each use. Then, at the age of fifteen, Jesus began to work with His step-father, as a carpenter's apprentice, learning quickly and taking great pride in His work as they constructed tables, chairs, carts, tools, and various other items such as ornate gift boxes and candle stick holders. Joseph had taught Him well that the most important step in working with wood was the planning of one's project before ever touching blade to wood. Thus, He had to design and plan His mother's gift carefully, for He knew that this was one of the most important gifts He would ever give, next to His Life.
Jesus's thoughts drifted to the Mount of Olives, one of His favorite places on earth. It was a beautifully peaceful place, a two mile ridge of hills that rose over two hundred feet above the Kedron Valley, giving a breath-taking view of the city of Jerusalem below. He had been there often and knew it was where He would find the wood he sought. The olive tree had been highly regarded since ancient times as the blessed tree. Olive wood symbolized new beginnings, its fruit representing productivity, and its branches representing peace, making it appropriate for the purpose at hand. A straight grained wood with a fine texture and lovely alternating streaks of light and dark browns, Jesus knew it would be the perfect choice for his mother's gift.
The design of His carving was vividly clear in His head. It would be a cross such as the Romans used in their most cruel executions, a shape that most would find morbid and distasteful. The shape of the cross would one day symbolize the depth of His love and sacrifice for all men that bought their redemption, a symbol which would signify the abiding faith, love, and committment of His followers, and His church. It was a shape His mother would come to understand and cherish. He would carve the letters Eashoa Msheekha in elegant Aramaic relief across it. "Eashoa Msheekha" was His Name in Ancient Aramaic, meaning "The Anointed Life Giver". Above His Name, on the top of the cross He would carve a delicately detailed relief of a dove in flight descending from the heavens. That, too, would one day be significant to His mother, a symbol of the Holy Spirit that He Himself would send to empower and lead his followers. At the very tip of this little cross, Jesus would bore a small hole just big enough to accommodate the thin leather strap that would go around Mary's neck.
Jesus would carve this piece with tender love and skill, then smooth its surfaces with the rubbing of course sand, followed by the application of a coat of bees wax that he would rub in and polish to a glowing shine. Finally, He would finish it off with several coats of linseed oil applied to the wood surface in thin layers to form a hard transparent varnish. It was a time consuming, tedious process, to be sure, but one greatly worth it, when the finished product was viewed. Then Jesus would purchase a fine leather chord from Thaddeus, the tanner, and lace it through the hole bored in the top of the cross.
He thought it appropriate to present it to His Mother on the eve of His thirtieth birthday, in private. Perhaps He would ask her to take a walk with Him up to the Mount of Olives, and give it to her there. He could visualize Himself placing it around her neck, and explaining to her gently that the future held many difficult things that she may not understand, but that were necessary for the Redemption of man, the purpose to which He was born. And this gift was made especially for her, to give her strength, courage, comfort, and peace during these times and for the rest of her days on earth. Tears stung His eyes just to think about it, but a deep Peace filled His Spirit, also, confirming for Him the Rightness of His plan. He would start out early, with the sunrise, for the Mount of Olives, and then possibly head to Bethany to visit his good friend, Lazarus, and his sisters, Martha and Mary, whom He had not seen in over a month. Jesus would make a day of it, and begin His carving the following day. Anticipation bubbled up within Him, and as He knelt to pray before climbing into bed, He thanked His Heavenly Father for His inspiration and skill, and asked for special guidance in the making of this gift for His Mother.
The following morning was fresh and bright, the air sweet with the melodious symphony of the birds. Jesus had told His mother He was going to visit Lazarus and not to expect Him home until evening. The walk to the Mount of Olives seemed a short one since His mind was focused on His current mission. Without much searching, Jesus found the perfect piece of olive wood, and lovingly ran His hand over and over the rough bark. It wasn't the olive branch that He saw, but the beautiful finished cross that He would present to His mother. It would be a bit tricky, making this piece without His mother's knowledge...but Jesus would be careful, so as not to spoil the surprise for her. His fingers itched to get started, but tomorrow would be soon enough. He also longed for the company of his dear friend, Lazarus, and his sisters, so He headed in the direction of Bethany, hiding His olive branch behind a clump of shrubs so He could retrieve it on His way home.
The city of Bethany was approximately two miles from Jerusalem. On the road between Jericho and Jerusalem, it was the last stop on the way into the Holy City. It was a lovely morning for a walk, and Jesus arrived at the house of His dear friends in no time. They spent a pleasant day catching up on the news of the day, reminiscing of times shared, and discussing current affairs, sometimes serious, sometimes laughing and teasing, as family and good friends often do. Time passed quickly, and as the tired sun sank into the western sky, Jesus set off on His journey home, by way of the Mount of Olives, where His precious olive branch lay waiting. He was anxious to get started on this special project, and hurried along the path as dusk settled in. Tomorrow He would begin. This was a wonderful diversion from the future that He faced. His ministry and final destiny lie before Him, looming like a dark stormy sky in the distance. He knew that His work was the will of The Father's and that the means to fulfill His purpose would be provided, yet His Heart trembled at what He knew lie ahead. His birthday was less than a week away, marking the beginning of the end. But for now, Jesus would focus on the project at hand, and put His heart and soul into this gift for His precious mother, Mary.
As He reached home, the darkness had chased away the day's light, and He was tired. It had been a full day. Jesus ate the meal Mary had prepared for Him and kissed her tenderly on His way to bed. As He knelt to pray, He thanked His Father for the day, and asked for special help in the making of the cross for His Mother, and extra blessing for her in the days ahead. Soon after, sleep enveloped Him like the sweet comfort of a mother's arms.
Jesus awoke early the next morning with purpose. He knew that His mother would soon be leaving for the market and had spoken of stopping to visit her sick friend, Keturah, that afternoon. Dressing quickly, He headed for the work shop and prepared to begin His project. After bidding His mother farewell, He started, humming happily as He worked. His fingers were nimble and His Hands steady and strong. By the end of the day, the cross was beginning to take shape, and after cleaning up the bark chips and wood shavings, Jesus took his prized work-in-progress into His room and hid it beneath the corner of His bed. Mary would be returning home any minute and He slid the carving under the bed in the knick of time, for Mary's voice rang out from the front entrance in greeting. Jesus smiled to Himself at His close call, and came out of His room, innocently embracing His mother.
The next day proved to be a bit trickier. Jesus spoke to His Mother as they ate breakfast, telling her that there were some supplies that He needed to complete the table and work bench that Simeon had ordered, and that He also needed her to stop at the tool maker's shop and purchase a new adze and chisel awl to replace the ones He had that had become dull from many years of use. He also needed some beeswax and linseed oil, from the market, if she could manage it. All of this He requested with a straight face, knowing that these chores would give him valuable time to work on His project. And, of course, Mary agreed. She wondered if Jesus needed these things today, or would it be possible to make a day of it, to include a visit with her mother. Hiding His thrill, Jesus seriously paused as if thinking, then told her that perhaps He could wait until tomorrow for His supplies, and certainly a visit with His grandmother would be no problem. Maybe He could finish His carving today, He thought with excitement.
Within a half an hour, Mary left to run her errands, and Jesus went directly to the work shop with His partially sculpted wood in hand. He sang as He worked, songs of praise that Mary had sung to Him as a child. The carving of the relief letters, and the dove was slow, tedious work, requiring deep concentration and a masterful, unwavering touch of the carving knife. Jesus had had the best of teachers in his step-father, Joseph. That, combined with His natural talent and love of wood working, made it come easy to Him and by the end of the day, the carving was complete. He couldn't help but smile as He looked at the delicate amulet that lay in His palm. All that was needed now was a little smoothing of the rough spots, a good rub with beeswax, and a couple thin coats of linseed oil to finish it off. His birthday was two days away and Jesus had just enough time to complete His gift without a moment to spare. His timing had been perfect.
The day of the eve of His thirtieth birthday was a perfect day. It was a pleasantly warm morning; the sky a lovely crystal, cloudless blue, the air alive with bird song as butterflies skittered here and there. Jesus rose early and ate breakfast with His mother, then helped her clean up, struggling to appear casual to hide His excitement. He nonchalantly suggested that they take a walk together to enjoy the morning's beauty. Jesus smoothly directed her up the path to the Mount of Olives, cleverly keeping her engaged in lively chat. Before either of them knew it, they were there amid the lovely groves of olive trees, overlooking the majestic view of Jerusalem.
They both grew quiet and serious, as they sat on the soft grass, taking in the awesome sight. Jesus silently prayed for the right words to say to His mother and the courage to say them, while gently caressing the carving He had made for her, which lay nestled within the pocket of His robe. Jesus finally broke the silence, as He gently said, "Mother, you know that I love you deeply, with all of my heart. You also know that I am here for a purpose, to fulfill the Will of the Father. The Salvation of mankind rests upon My shoulders, and unto this end I was born. Upon my birthday, tomorrow, My ministry begins. The days ahead will not be easy ones, My Mother. Much will happen that you will not understand. I must teach My people God's Message of Love and Forgiveness, and it is for the sins of the world that I will die. Be not afraid, My Beloved, for I shall conquer death, and you will see Me again. This I promise you. To give you strength and comfort during the completion of My Mission, Mother, I have made you a gift. Wear it always, and it will give you a constant and abiding sense of My Presence with you." Jesus then stood up, and reached within the folds of His robe to bring out the lovely hand carved cross, and stepping behind Mary, placed it around her neck and tied it into a small, secure knot. She looked down at it, and tenderly touched it, as tears rolled down her cheeks. She could find no words for her precious Son. Jesus stepped back around to stand in front of her, and tears streamed down His face, as well. Mary knelt before Him, taking His hands into her own. She had known from the very beginning, when the Angel of God had first appeared and told her of His conception, that Jesus was, indeed, the Son of God, sent to fulfill the long awaited prophecy of a Messiah who would save God's People. Mary gently kissed both of Jesus' hands, thanked her Son for the most beautiful gift she had ever received, then turned her eyes heavenward and softly said, "O Blessed Father, Most Holy God, My Jesus was Yours before He was mine. Into Your Hands I, once again, commend His Life. May Your Will be done according to Thy Word, O my God, and may Your Everlasting Grace embrace and sustain us both. Amen."
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