Even in our modern technological world, we still cherish craftsmen who work with their hands. Perhaps we sense that they embed a piece of their own soul in each product that comes from their handiwork. Today, Jeremiah is told to admire the creative skill of a potter who fashions wet clay into vessels of various sizes and shapes. Once they have been baked dry in an oven, they will eventually be useful for storing oil and grain, or carrying water from a nearby spring to a home.
The emphasis in today’s brief excerpt is that the potter can do whatever he wants with the clay. If he is not happy with what is shaping up, he can start over and refashion the same clay into something completely different. As God says through Jeremiah, “like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand, house of Israel.”
My own appreciation for the vividness of this image comes from one afternoon more than three decades ago when I listened to a potter explain the various steps involved in preparing the clay before it was ready to be thrown on the spinning wheel and deftly fashioned into its desired shape by the gentle pressure of his fingers. I remember especially how that potter insisted that he strenuously had to knead the wet clay like baking dough. Every trace of air bubbles must be removed from the clay. If the potter were careless in this duty, those air bubbles would remain in the clay like a ticking bomb. When the object was baked in the oven, those little pockets of air would burst and shatter all the surrounding area, making all the potter’s creativity utterly useless.
When God says that he will fashion “Israel” – and us – like the potter, we can expect to be pushed around a bit in our spiritual growth process. God has to move us to address some of those potentially destructive “air bubbles” of our personality and weak will before they wreak havoc on our lives and many other people whom we influence over the years. The lifeless wet clay in the hands of the potter is mute, but we can pray, “Lord, let your healing hands shape me into something as holy and beautiful as You are.”
(Father Paul Zilonka, C.P. is a Member of the Passionist Preaching Team of St. Paul of the Cross Province).