The Apostle St. Paul was a tentmaker.
A MAKER OF TENTS …
Yes, St. Paul was an Apostle. And it’s true that he was a Pharisee and the son of a Pharisee too. It’s also true that St. Paul was an understudy of Gamaliel, a respected leader in the Sanhedrin. But when getting to know St. Paul, we ought never forget that he was a tentmaker.
Tentmaking was an important part of the success St. Paul experienced as a missionary.
NOT JUST ANY TENT THOUGH …
So what is a tentmaker? Of course, a tentmaker is someone who makes tents. But there’s actually more ambiguity in this job title than we might first discern.
Most Jews owned “prayer shawls.” They wore prayer shawls for daily prayer. They also wore them for special occasions. These prayer shawls were referred to as “tallits” or “little tents.” They were called that because the ones who prayed under them often wore the tallit over their heads like a tent.(1)
THE PHARISEE AND THE TENT …
The tent and the Apostle probably connect in a very special way. Tallits were described precisely in Scripture, especially as it pertains to the tassels (“tzitzit”) and the colors (specific dyes) that made up these garments.(2)
To correctly make a tallit, one had to know Scripture and also understand sacred tradition. St. Paul was a master scholar. He certainly would have had the knowledge and credibility to inspire confidence that a tallit was correctly made.(3)
A DUAL PURPOSE …
Assuming that St. Paul’s work with “tents” was about tallits, the marketplace would have offered him a strategic entry point to quickly integrate in society when establishing his apostolate in cities like Corinth. By engaging other merchants in the tallit trade,(4) the Apostle was able to access local Jewish leaders and those who worshipped in the synagogues.(5)
And of course, St. Paul earned income for his apostolate through the tallit trade too. So the master missionary actually realized two powerful advantages by using the marketplace to access people with the Gospel.
THE KEY POINT …
The key to all of this is actually found in the Pauline charism. Those who share in the charism live and communicate Jesus Master, Way, Truth and Life using all the avenues of communication available.(6) And while the use of technology and media is of paramount concern in Pauline communities today, an important lesson from St. Paul that we should not overlook is the fruit available to those who use these emerging resources creatively in the workplace.
THE RATIONALE …
There’s a good reason to embrace this lesson. Most people spend most of their time each week in work-related activities. If you want to share the Gospel with people, you have to take the Gospel where the people are. And they are definitely in the workplace.
When it comes to the New Evangelization, an intentional strategy that includes workplace apostolates (Faith@Work) makes sense today — just as it did when St. Paul used that strategy!
LOOKING AHEAD …
We’ll have more to say on this topic in future blogs. We’ll also have some easy, practical tips for you. For now, however, we simply want to introduce the vision.
And it has always been a powerful way to share the love of Jesus Christ with others.
There he found a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, who had recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had ordered all Jews to leave Rome. Paul went to see them, and, because he was of the same trade, he stayed with them, and they worked together—by trade they were tentmakers. (Acts 18:2-3 )
- The Shofarman; October 27, 2018.
- Numb 15:37-41; Dt 22:12; Zech 8:23
- Acts 22:3
- Acts 18:2-3
- Acts 19:8-9
- Jn 14:6