Paula Clare has made a few appearances on the blog previously. She’s a missions deacon, counselor, wacky monk, and also my mother. Spirituality via Franciscan spiritual disciplines, passion for social justice and green living, love of animals and their right treatment, and her love of nature and creation are common themes. You can read more of her work at http://thecontemporarymonk.blogspot.com.
“But we have this treasure in jars of clay (cracked pots) that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us.” 2 Cor. 4:7
Have you ever wondered why God chose to “leave in” the Bible the people who really messed things up as well as those who did well? Those who were disobedient as well as those who were obedient?
In reflecting on this scripture, I was reminded of an old story…I’m sure you may have heard it before: In India a water bearer had two large posts that hung on a pole that he carried across his neck to bring water to his master’s house. One of the pots developed a crack, while the other pot remained perfect. Every day the servant would fill both pots with water and every day he would arrive at the house with one full pot and one half pot of water. When asked why he continued to use the cracked pot he answered, “I know it’s flawed, but I have made the best of it. I planted flower seeds along the side of the path, and every day as I walked back from the stream, the cracked pot has watered them. For two years I have been able to enjoy and pick these beautiful flowers to decorate my master’s table. Without the cracked pot, I would not have been able to grace his table with such beauty.”
One discipline I’ve learned from Lectio Divina is to really do a “character study” of the people in the Bible. It doesn’t take long (only 3 chapters in from the beginning of the Book!) we discover that the “First Family” had issues. Some evidences of the brokenness of said family:
A. The “fall” of human kind (“Fall” is a theological term which means, put simply, they (Adam and Eve) blew it. For ALL of us.)
B. Anger, jealousy, murder
Not exactly “the Waltons” you know? And the list goes on:
Sarah and Abraham – Sarah laughed at God’s promises and then took matters into her own hands. (FYI: BAD IDEA). Rebekkah and Isaac lived at odds with each other in their marriage. Their differences lead to deceit and pain the lives of their twin sons, Jacob and Esau. Jacob’s favoritism of his son Joseph caused his brothers to throw him in a pit, leave him for dead, and then lie about his death. King David…the Bible calls him a “Man after God’s own heart.” David, aside from being a great king, was also an adulterer and a murderer…HOW could he be seen as a man after God’s heart? (I USED TO THINK that meant that David was ‘like God’ in some way…that he resembled Him. NOW I think it is that AND perhaps that means David CHASED after God’s heart…he pursued God. His praise and gratitude in the Psalms and his quick ability to repent after doing those “terrible things”…tells me he was a man who wanted to FEEL God’s presence. Wholly and completely…but I digress…)
All through the Old Testament we are reminded that God called Israel to be the people of God. And God didn’t do this because their geography or their numbers or their prosperity. He didn’t do it because of their accomplishments or faithfulness or because they were of noble character. He did it because He had covenanted with them…and God ALWAYS keeps HIS end of the bargain! (A bit of semantics here: a COVENANT means I will even if you don’t…a CONTRACT says “I will if you will”. It’s a very different kind of agreement…AGAIN, I digress…
“BUT” says you, “things CHANGE after Jesus comes on the scene! Everything’s different in the NEW Testament!” OH REEEEEALLY????
The 12 disciples…unlearned, ordinary fisherman, despised tax collectors, prostitutes…in other words, MY KIND OF PEOPLE! Marginalized, ostracized, mocked and dispised. Aren’t you GLAD when Jesus moved into our ‘neighborhood’ (as The Message reads in 1 John 1) that He chose the unlikely “neighborhood” of our HEARTS?
Anyway, all this theological pondering has left me to consider WHY God doesn’t use “pots” (people) who are likely to have a greater degree of success?! The song “Superstar” from the rock opera, Jesus Christ Superstar includes the lines,
“Every time I look at you I don’t understand
Why you let the things you did get so out of hand.
You’d have managed better if you’d had it planned.
Why’d you choose such a backward time in such a strange land?
If you’d come today you could have reached a whole nation.
Israel in 4 BC had no mass communication”
Which I only mention to prove the point that from the BEGINNING Jesus plan was to interact with ordinary people…a King who likes to hang around the riff raff and the likes of ME?! Jesus Kingdom MUST be something different…success MUST be defined differently. The Kingdom of God is said to be a Kingdom upside down…and it truly MUST be if the way to the TOP is through the ordinary, common and every day “crack pots” like you and me!
Some days I feel so very broken…like I can’t possibly be of ANY use to anyone…especially God. I pray and ask God to remove these character defects that seem to perpetually get me into all kinds of trouble…and the answer I get is often NOT the answer I want: (the answer I want is “Yes, child, I will take them away and clean you up nice and shiny, and you won’t have to deal with these same struggles, because I know you’d rather live and have no messiness to deal with…”) But instead, I get messages like, “My grace is sufficient for you…” “Seek Me for daily grace…”
And then I read the Word and discover people like Paul the Apostle…and how he was a lunatic, religious zealot who went around killing Christians…and then ends up being the guy who writes most of the New Testament and touts about the grace of God every other breath. And Peter, wonderful, mouthy, impetuous Peter! How I love that guy! He was a fisherman who apparently had no problem letting people know how he felt…and Jesus told him, “On THIS rock, Peter (Petra in the Greek) I will build My Church.” You gotta love Jesus’ confidence. He didn’t come with a Plan B, in case this rag tag bunch of merry do gooders blows it…He came precisely so we could know Him…and He, us. He came to know what it’s like to live in this skin and struggle and have to PRAY for daily bread. Daily grace.
Yes, He uses cracked pots, so that there is no doubt…no question, that ANY greatness, ANY excellence, ANY good we may do, is His Light shining through the cracks. I leave you with one last thought to ponder…
Wabi-sabi is the Japanese art of finding beauty in imperfection, celebrating cracks and crevices and appreciating the intrinsic integrity of natural objects and processes, asymmetry, roughness or irregularity. Characteristics of the wabi-sabi aesthetic include simplicity, economy, austerity, modesty and intimacy. Above is a picture of a Japanese pottery bowl, with a golden seam ending in a delta at the rim. The deep fissures in the bowl, which is old and valuable, had been filled with resin and gold flakes, burnished and lacquered. The procedure is called “Kintsugi” or “Kin Zukuroi” which means “repairing with gold.”
Perhaps God believes, too, that we “cracked pots” are more valuable after having the gold of His grace poured into our broken places and fissures? I will try to remember, when I’m having an especially “broken” day. I hope you will too?