Thursday 24 December 2015

The Carpenter And The Merchant - A Tale For Christmas 2015.

“A trader? No. Carpentry was my trade – although, some said I did better as a fisherman. As to what brings me south: that is easy. I came looking for a merchant: a merchant with a message. I have a great interest in messages.”
THEY ARRIVED amidst the snorting of camels and the loud shouting of orders. The Carpenter watched the caravan unload. The sun-shimmer on the dust-clouds kicked up by the dark-robed men made him squint. Where was he – this merchant, this messenger, about whom the Carpenter had heard so much? He took another sip of the strong red Arabian wine in his cup, and waited.
The Merchant took in the dimensions of the inn and calculated roughly how much of his animals’ burdens he was likely to leave behind. But, first things first. He needed to wash the desert from his face and feet and hands. The prospect of a cool jug of water was almost as refreshing as the water itself. Yes, he would introduce himself to the inn-keeper, perform his ablutions, and then join that fellow he’d spotted as he crossed the threshold – the one sipping wine in the shade. The one whose glance had stopped him in his tracks.
“Peace be with you, my friend”, said the Merchant, placing his hand lightly upon his chest by way of greeting.
“And with you also”, replied the Carpenter, gesturing towards the stool opposite. “You have travelled far and your beasts are heavy laden, it is good to give them rest and take shelter from the relentless sun.”
“True words, my friend,” the Merchant replied, “even if they are garnished with the accents of the distant north. You are a Galilean?”
The Carpenter smiled and nodded slowly. “Yes. A long time ago. I was a Galilean.”
“What brings you so far south? Are you a trader?”
“A trader? No. Carpentry was my trade – although, some said I did better as a fisherman. As to what brings me south: that is easy. I came looking for a merchant: a merchant with a message. I have a great interest in messages.”
Though the sun was at its zenith, and the landscape all around buckled and wavered in its heat, the Merchant felt a chill run through him – as though a sword, sheathed in ice, had suddenly been driven into his heart.
“Who are you, Carpenter?” The Merchant’s voice withered to a whisper. “There is something in your eyes that I have seen before. Are you one of His messengers?”
The Carpenter laughed, broke an unleavened loaf and refilled his cup. “Won’t you join me? Whoever makes this wine surely knows his business!”
“Thank you, no”, said the Merchant, struggling to regain his composure, “I do not drink wine.”
“No? A pity. But then I hear your message is an austere one. Can you reduce it to a single word?”
“Indeed, I can, Carpenter, and that word would be “Submit!”.
“Submit? Submission? Surrender? This is your message? This is what you believe the One True God demands of his children?”
“No, of course not. The One True God is all Love and Mercy. Submission is what I, the One True God’s chosen messenger, demand of men. The human race is not fit to choose, it is too proud, too lustful and too greedy to be left to make its own way to the One True God. If men are not shown a clear path, then they will stray. If I ask them to obey, it is only fair that I leave them the clearest set of instructions.”
“Instructions?” The Carpenter took a thoughtful sip of wine and smiled, as if remembering an old joke. “Yes, I tried that once, standing on a hill in Galilee. They were simple instructions – or so I thought at the time. They didn’t take.”
“But, that’s just it! What use is there in a rule that is not enforced? If men prove unwilling to follow the path, then we must shepherd them with the sword!”
“The sword you say? I had a friend who tried to defend the work of the One True God with a sword. I will say to you, Merchant, what I said to him: ‘Put your sword back into its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword’.
Wonder and terror vied for control of the Merchant’s features. With a wild cry, he fell to his knees.
When he looked up the Carpenter was gone. On the table, scrawled in wine as red as blood, the Merchant found a single word.
This short story was originally published in The Waikato Times, The Taranaki Daily News, The Timaru Herald, The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Thursday, 24 December 2015.


Anonymous said...

The idea that Jesus was a carpenter is false, and due to a mistranslation from the Greek. Jesus is described as a tekton, which is better translated as somewhere between labourer and craftsman. I suppose it is possible he was what we call a carpenter, but its far from certain. Perhaps some see this as a minor detail, but think of all the imagry and myth built around Jesus as a Carpenter. Then think of what else is known to be false, or probably inaccurate in the gospels.
Imagry and myth is the best place to leave it.

Chris Trotter said...

If you attempt to turn the gospels into reportage, Anonymous, you are bound to be disappointed.

Whatever core of fact gave rise to the Christian tradition matters much less than the stories that were woven out of it. The truth of religion is akin to the truth of a great novel. It is woven out of reality, but it is not real, and the truths it imparts are not the sort that require verification.

Sceptic or believer, whatever you go looking for in the story of Christ, you will be sure to find.

Anonymous said...

Great parable Chris, this ought to be published everywhere...

Anonymous said...

In addition to the carpenter and merchant there would have been the unemployed,the destitute and homeless, false prophets of all ilk that were amongst them would have sold betterment.
Despite our massive increase of technology in every sphere of life, despite our wars nothing has changed, unemployment, destitution and homelessness ravages every country in the world.
Capitalism, Communism or any other method of civilised organised life all state their superiority. Billions of people argue and war their political desire but despite the winning or losing and the eventual order, non have solved the hopelessness and destruction of unemployment, destitution and homelessness of innocent life.
Would a plague be better for our fellow unfortunates and their children, better a quick death than a slow death ?
The man or women that can solve this awfulness across our world could really become our carpenter.
I await with breath which is not bated.

David Stone said...

Happy Christmas All
If you think of all the people you know well,they all fall in with the philosophy of the carpenter don't they. So how come so much of the world is in such terrible strife? The answer must be that our leaders, whether democratically elected or not are not representative of the mass of human nature, but motivated by a ruthless lust for power that most of us don't share.
The world would be better off led by people balloted into government randomly and required to serve for a term and then return to their day job as someone suggested here once for an upper house , but it should be for the entire government. People who deliberately seek power from within a democracy or not almost never do so to promote democracy but to rule over others. They should be eliminated from selection .
Cheers and seasons greetings
David J S

Anonymous said...

"Sceptic or believer, whatever you go looking for in the story of Christ, you will be sure to find."
True. One of the major flaws in Christianity, and religion in general.

Anonymous said...

"truths it imparts are not the sort that require verification."
Not truths at all, then.
If you can't verify it, you don't know if its true.
Or you just cherry pick the comforting bits?
For instance, the bible (old testament and new) condemns homosexuals to death.
Do you follow that bit?

Kat said...

Anonymous @13:41: "The man or women that can solve this awfulness across our world could really become our carpenter"

Well, Gerry Brownlee is an ex carpentry teacher and his leader is the master of smoke and mirrors so breathe easy, its all part of the brighter future.....waiting just around the corner.........well maybe the next corner.

Anonymous said...

Kat I am Anonymous 13.41, I appreciate your reply, your reply is trite but sadly no more trite than what is known as political leadership in both the Capitalism or Communist worlds to no-hope homelessness..
In NZ the homeless are not refugees, they are born and bred New Zealanders who live pitifully in Gods paradise. Homelessness is not a political priority so I really think that political polemic in NZ is between the middle and the right and not as a "feigned fact" between the left and the right. The left and the right both say 'fuck the poor and your children'
We need a carpenter and your reply clearly indicates such, you may breathe easy I hope you don't choke, though really would it be such a waste ?.

Victor said...


I am of the middle (albeit a wee bit to the left thereof). I am not of the carpenter's faith but nor do I lack appreciation of much of his presumed legacy.

Even so, I'm a bit perplexed as to why he belongs in the middle, unless you define the middle as where you end up when you resign from the use of power.

Your further thoughts would be genuinely appreciated by me.


It occurs to me that the value of religion lies rather more in the reflections it stimulates than the truths it purports to tell. Perhaps that's what Chris was suggesting.

Anonymous said...


Who said who belongs in the middle ???. Middle 'resign from the use power' ???, do you murdered ???.

Victor you need to lay off the juice or as it is happy holidays have another one,

Have a good one 2016,cheers 17.27.

Kat said...

Ok! Merry Christmas 'anonymous' @ 26 December 2015 at 17:27

I take it you are saying my comments are lacking originality or freshness or possibly dull on account of overuse, well get over it cos in the new year its going to be even more "trite'.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

There you go Victor – you have your thoughts. And as usual with so many of the anonymi they are just a tad incoherent. I hope you can make some sense of them because I can't.

Anonymous said...


Despite our progress in every sphere of life and technology.

There are over one hundred million homeless in the world ( UN 2014 ).

It is wretchedness on a grand scale.

We have a blind spot, that blind spot is not trite.

Merry Xmas and have a good one 2016. Cheers 17.27

Anonymous said...

Guerilla Surgeon, to assist you, put on your glasses "then" read, drink ,read, drink or if that is not working try drink, read ,drink, read.

Merry Xmas and a happy New Year. You write good post's.

Ps, don't forget your medication !.

Nick J said...

I demand submission....mankind is not fit to decide...nicely worded Chris. That is the position of Islam which means I submit. It pretty much sums up any fundamentalist religious position. Surely the message Chris alludes to is that we are free to decide and that love gives a good guiding principle as opposed to blind doctrinal obedience.

Victor said...


And there was me thinking I might learn something!


I've yet to find you trite. You'll obviously have to try harder

Happy New Year to you both

Anonymous said...

Victor , you did, the penny dropped but has not hit bottom, to much space perhaps ?.

Hi Vis. said...

' A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worse time of the year
For a journey, and such a long journey:
The ways deep and the weather sharp,
The very dead of winter.
And the camels galled, sore footed , refractory
Lying down in the melting snow.
There wre times we regretted
The summer palaces on slopes, the terraces.
And the silken girls bringing sherbet.
Then the camel men cursing and grumbling
and running away, and wanting their liquor and women,
And the night-fires going out, and the lack of shelters,
And the cities hostile and the towns unfriendly
And the villages dirty and charging high prices:
A hard time we had of it.
At the end we preferred to travel all night,
Sleeping in snatches,
With the voices in outr ears, saying
That this was all folly.

Then at dawn we came down to a temperate valley,
Wet, below the snow linr, smelling of vegetation;
With a running stream and a water-mill beating the darkness.
And three trees on the low sky,
And an old white horse galloped away in the meadow.
Then we came to a tavern with vine-leaves over the lintel,
Six hands at an open door dicing for pieces of silver,
And feet kicking the empty wine-skins.
But there was no information, and so we continued
And arriving at evening, not a moment too soon
Finding the place, it was ,you might say, satisfactory.

All this was a long time ago, I remember
And I would do it all over again, but set down
This set down
This: were we led all that way for Birth or Death?
There was a Birth, certainly .
We had evidence and no doubt.
I had seen birth and death
But had thought they were different,
This Birth was
Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.
We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,
But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,
With an alien people clutching their gods.
I should be glad of another death. '

The Journey of the Magi.
T.S. Eliot

I have read this poem every year to my friends and family at Christmas.
I have read it every year for nearly fifty years.with magnanimity.
I have read it often.
I read read it at Easter.