Selling T-Shirts on the Way of the Cross

By Mark D. Roberts

March 24, 2024

Scripture — John 1:14 (NRSV)

And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.


The Gospel of John reveals that the Word of God became flesh and lived among us. Jesus, the Word Incarnate, didn’t live in some pristine enclave far removed from ordinary human life. Rather, he lived in the real world, a world in which work plays a major role. Thus, Jesus understands the challenges we face at work, whether our work is paid or unpaid.


Several years ago, my family and I had the opportunity to visit Jerusalem. During our trip we walked along the Via Dolorosa, which is also known as the Way of the Cross. Christians believe that this is the path on which Jesus walked as he made his way to Golgotha, the place where he was crucified.

I had always imagined that it would be a deeply spiritual experience to walk along the Via Dolorosa. I expected to have a profound encounter with Jesus in this place. I did not, however, expect to have a profound encounter with dozens of eateries, trinket arcades, and T-shirt shops. Yes, along the Way of the Cross you can buy all sorts of T-shirts. I didn’t see one with any Christian words or images, by the way. But I did see many featuring sayings such as “Someone who loves me very much went to Jerusalem and got me this T-shirt” or “I walked my feet off in Jerusalem.”

At first, I was greatly disappointed. How in the world was I going to have a life-changing experience with Jesus in the midst of hundreds of tacky T-shirts? How could I pray when vendors kept bugging me to buy their wares?

It didn’t dawn on me at the time, but upon later reflection I realized that what happened on the Way of the Cross was surprisingly appropriate. Though I might have preferred a quiet, serene, and naturally beautiful path conducive to meditation, what I experienced was real life. In fact, it was the real life of hundreds of workers who were trying to eke out a living by selling T-shirts and other souvenirs.

It was into this world, this real-life world of ordinary work, that Jesus came. John 1:14 says that the Word of God “became flesh and lived among us.” The Word didn’t become flesh and live on the top of some secluded mountain, far away from the hubbub of marketplace commerce. Yes, sometimes Jesus retreated into the wilderness for times of solitude and prayer. But mostly he lived as an ordinary person in ordinary reality. Plus, he spent most of his adult life working in a trade and running a small business. Like I said, real-world stuff.

Honestly, I find it easier to connect with God when I’m away from the ruckus of ordinary life. Sublime environments and secluded retreats are good for my soul, perhaps also for yours. But I want to remember that Jesus lived in an ordinary world of ordinary work. He was intimately acquainted with customers and commerce, production and promotion. The fact that the Way of the Cross passes by T-shirt shops is a stirring reminder of the reality of the Incarnation. The Word of God truly became flesh and truly lived among us.

Jesus understands the messiness and chaos of our lives. Jesus understands the frustrations and challenges of work. Moreover, Jesus came to redeem, not just souls, but the whole creation. I don’t know if there will be redeemed T-shirt shops in the age to come. But I do know that if there are some, Jesus won’t be put off by them.


When you think of Jesus working as a carpenter, what comes to mind? What do you imagine? What do you think? How do you feel?

Do you believe that Jesus really understands you and your work?

How free are you to talk with Jesus about the challenges, frustrations, injustices, and opportunities of your daily work?


Have a conversation with Jesus about your work.


Gracious God, thank you for coming among us in Jesus. Thank you for entering this world as it is. Thank you for living among us, experiencing the joys and sorrows of life. Thank you for getting what it’s like to work, including all that is good and all that is not so good.

Lord Jesus, thank you for being present on the Way of the Cross in Jerusalem, even today, through your Spirit. And thank you for the times when we can get away for a few hours to focus more fully on you.

During this Holy Week, Lord, may I share all that I do with you, attending to your presence with me at all times. Amen.

Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the Theology of Work Project’s online commentary. Reflection on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: In the Beginning Was the Word (John 1:1-18).

Mark D. Roberts

Senior Strategist

Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders,...

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