"Remember, I am with you always to the end of the age" (Mt 28:20)

A Potter's Vessel

Photo by JM Manzano, February 5, 2016, One World Trade Center New York—"360 View from 100th Floor"

T
here are three ways of looking at pottery that I would like to highlight in today's set of readings. First is the historical aspect. The potter’s wheel was an invention that changed the face of the world. But when and where it was invented no one knows. Excavations in Egypt show that pottery making dates back to as early as 3000 B.C. Bottles, jars, and jugs for carrying and storing water represent a large portion of the most primitive earthenware vessels of the Egyptians. The Greeks developed pottery making to its greatest art between the fourth and sixth centuries (BC). They printed their gods and heroes on vases beautifully. Prophet Jeremiah regarded pottery making as sacred and precious because it mirrors the relationship between Creator and creature. How the damp clay is molded in a particular shape, size and usefulness by the potter is one of great mystery. I remember one of the earliest retreat that I gave 13 years ago to a group of pilgrims. I brought them to a potter's house in the heritage City of Vigan. There is so much more in pottery making than what meets the eye. I myself discovered how complex a process pottery throwing is. There are so many steps beginning from the choice of clay materials. The clay is processed in a pugging machine to remove the air packets. It is called pottery throwing because you literally throw the clay on the potter's wheel. It must be centered on the wheel otherwise the clay will fly off. Then afterwards you need to use your entire body pressure to start forming it into its desired shape. Both hands must be balanced and steady on the wheel. Imagine God as your potter and you as God's precious clay. There are no two potteries that are the same because the potter has created each of them unique as individuals and as a people or race. No wonder the stories of great civilizations, the vision and moods of the people had been enshrined very artistically through the potteries of old. Pottery is the measure of a nation's civilization. Human beings have expressed their feelings and their aesthetics in clay. It is the most sensual of all arts. It is not only to be looked at, but also to be handled with great care and tenderness. The next time that you handle a particular pottery know that you are like that vessel.

Secondly, the spiritual aspect behind pottery. It was St Paul who made use of potteries, in a much more spiritual and deeper way, to point to God’s “surpassingly great power” at work in the human heart and spirit. St Paul says in 2 Corinthians 4:7 "Now we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this surpassingly great power is from God and not from us." Indeed, the way St Paul regards an earthen vessel, he sees God's immense power at work in it. "We are hard pressed on all sides, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed... For we who are alive are always consigned to death for Jesus’s sake, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our mortal body." This is the reason why this mortal and breakable human being is regarded as Capax Dei—capable of knowing God and of receiving the gift that God makes of Himself. Even our God came down to become this breakable human being but not broken, helpless but not hopeless, lonely but not alone, dead to sin but alive in Him.

Thirdly, the salvific or redemptive aspect of pottery or what is called in theology as eschatological and soteriological. I remember one of the most difficult questions that was asked of me during my final oral comprehensive exam was, "How did Jesus save all of humanity beginning from Adam and Eve who all have a share of brokenness in one way or another?" I cannot remember now my answer to that but what I can only remember is that the panel of examiners were not satisfied with what I gave. But if I were to answer that now I would use today's gospel reading, “The Kingdom of heaven is like a net thrown into the sea, which collects fish of every kind. When it is full they haul it ashore and sit down to put what is good into buckets. What is bad they throw away. Thus it will be at the end of the age." But that is not the end of what Jesus said in our gospel. Let us read on. "The righteous or chosen individual is like the head of a household who brings out from his treasure both the new and the old.” See even those that are thrown away as without value will be renewed, redeemed. The old will once again be made new by the head of the household. What does the head of the household have that is powerful enough to renew everything back to the sheepfold? Mercy, forgiveness, love. Like the potter, “Whenever the object of clay which he was making turned out badly in his hand, he tried again, making of the clay another object of whatever sort he pleased” (Jer 18:4). Do not forget when you will be asked, How did Jesus save all of humanity not only from original sin but from the original dirt that each has been made of? Through God’s mercy.

There is a final image that I would like to leave with you about the permanent effect of God’s mercy. Did you know that oysters and mollusks work like potters at the bosom of the sea or river? I learned about this when I looked at their work of art—pearls—which humans have prized for thousands of years. Pearls are the only gemstones to come from a living creature. The process begins when a particle of dirt, or what is referred to as an irritant, gets trapped inside the oyster. In essence, it functions as the trigger. Mysteriously, the oyster does not throw away the particle, but it covers it with nacre—a fluid that the oyster secretes to defend itself. Layers upon layers of nacre create that unique luster (or glow) common among pearls. No wonder when you cut a pearl in half there are visible layers just like the cross section of a tree. We are like pearls. In essence we originated from dirt but because of a special coating of God’s love and mercy this original dirt is destined to shine like pearls. Amen Fr JM Manzano SJ

Comments

  1. I hope and pray the potter's place in Vigan was spared from yesterday's earthquake. Halung ka pirmi! πŸ™πŸ™πŸ™

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    1. We continue to pray for our brothers and sisters in the north as aftershocks are continuously being felt. πŸ˜‡

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    2. Yes we will pray earnestly that the Abra river fault will stop moving and find its resting position. Yesterday we felt it in Tagaytay somewhat strong as shown by the long swaying of the hanging lights in the church. I hope your relatives in Ilocos were safe too. The earth's crust is moving to have its new form in a new position. Timely to connect to your reflection...though the strong shocks can breakdown our homes, they bring out treasures not only formed by heat and pressure underneath like the gemstones but also of treasures of "damayan, bayanihan at pagtutulungan " from the goodness of our hearts.. Most of all trusting also in the loving protection of our Triune God and companionship of our Mother Mary in this trying times...GBU!

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    3. Thank you for your sharing and for your prayers and concern for those affected by the earthquake! GBU πŸ˜‡

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