Thursday, June 15, 2017

“Earthen Vessels” by Colleen O’Sullivan

Brothers and sisters:  We hold this treasure in earthen vessels, that the surpassing power may be of God and not from us.  We are afflicted in every way, but not constrained; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying about in the Body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our body.  For we who live are constantly being given up to death for the sake of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may be manifested in our mortal flesh.  (2 Corinthians 4:7-11)

Lord grant me the grace of humility.  Help me to be satisfied as an ordinary clay pot, my flawed nature a foil to your glory.

Layers of shards of amphoras settled at Testaccio hill in Rome,
October 3, 2015, Flazaza, Creative Commons Attribution-Share
Alike 4.0 International license, via Wikimedia Commons
In Paul’s day, the Romans imported vast amounts of olive oil from Spain.  Most of the time the oil was delivered in 18-gallon earthen vessels known as amphorae.  When they were empty, the Romans discarded the amphorae at a particular spot near the Tiber River in Rome.  Over time the pile of shards grew and grew and became known as Monte Testaccio.  Once their task of holding the olive oil was done, the vessels were of no more use.  They could be flung into the dump, joining millions of other shards of pottery.  It wasn’t the amphorae themselves that were so valuable but what they contained that was so precious.

So, when Paul wrote to the church in Corinth about treasure held in earthen vessels, people could well identify with what he was saying.  The clay pots weren’t nearly as important as what they held - the Gospel in its entirety, Jesus’ death, the very glory of God!  It isn’t by accident that such great treasure is contained in fragile clay pots, subject to chips, flaws, and cracks. 

We hold the glory of God within us.  In John’s Gospel Jesus’ final moments of torment on the Cross are his moment of glory.  It is precisely at that instant that the Roman centurion recognized and proclaimed Jesus the Son of God.
It’s okay if we’re a little worn or chipped, perhaps even cracked in some parts of our existence.  The reality is that we are flawed.  We fall ill.  Eventually, we will die.  It’s no use pretending otherwise. And after all, it’s not really about us; it’s about the glory of God contained within us.

Unfortunately, from the White House to our houses, humility is not much in vogue at the moment.  It doesn’t always suit us to be clay pots.  We waste time wishing God had made us beautiful vases instead.  We spend hours polishing those earthen vessels, more interested in what the world thinks about us than about the treasure God has placed within us and the need to share it with our brothers and sisters.  Sometimes we’re so focused on ourselves, I’m afraid we forget that we’re holding a treasure at all.

Spend some time savoring the treasure that you hold.  How have you shared it with others?  With whom could you share it today?

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