A Beautiful and Useful Vessel
Homily for Thursday of the Seventeenth Week in Ordinary Time
The visual image used by the Prophet Jeremiah connotes not only the brokenness of the human family but also the power of God’s love. In this short oracle, Jeremiah is told a story of a potter who fails in his first attempt to mold the clay into an attractive vessel. Through this simple little story, God reveals to Jeremiah that the potter, who in this case is God, can mold us like clay in any fashion. On its own, the clay cannot accomplish anything. Through God’s power, the clay can be formed into a vessel both beautiful and useful.
God is revealing our complete dependence on him. The image of a potter is used to illustrate God’s great love and mercy. The potter does not dislike the clay, nor does he wish to arbitrarily rule over it. The potter simply wants to make something beautiful. The church and God’s commandments are not signs of arbitrary authority. Quite the opposite! They are the framework by which God works with us. God molds the church into a masterpiece of love.
As with pottery, part of molding and strengthening the church necessarily involves firing it in the kiln – we are tested, refined, and made perfect in the fire. We respond by reflecting God’s truth, beauty, and goodness; or we meld with the broken shards around us. At the end of time there will be a separation of the beautiful vessels from the broken shards, and the passing of judgment on each.
The Gospel passage for today is the last in a whole chapter of parables on the kingdom. In fact, Jesus ended his series of parables with this one. We may never like the idea of judgment, but it is the master potter who will be our judge. He is the one who sent Jesus to redeem us, who created the church to guide us, and who gave us the commandments to keep our feet on the right path. We will be judged on our faith and charity; but with the love and mercy of God, even the toughest clay can become a masterpiece.