• Treasure in Jars of Clay

    But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.
    —2 Corinthians 4:7-9

    On a dull day in December 1946, Juma, a young Palestinian shepherd, was herding his goats up the dry, dusty Qumram Wadi, close to the shores of the Dead Sea. He had often dreamed of finding treasure in one of those hidden valleys, maybe stashed away by the bandits who roamed the rough roads, but this day his mind was on more mundane matters because one of his goats was lost and he urgently needed to find it before nightfall. Idly he tossed a stone into a nearby cave and listened for a bleat, but all he heard was a crack and a tinkling sound. Going inside to investigate, he discovered an old cracked pot and, inside it, an ancient leather scroll wrapped in a piece of rotting cloth. His face filled with disgust and disappointment, but little did he know that he had stumbled on a priceless treasure — a 2,000 year old manuscript of the Old Testament book of Isaiah, preserved for all those years in a plain old clay pot.

    It is this picture of treasure in a humble earthenware jar that the Apostle Paul uses in his second letter to the Corinthians — a strange picture for Paul, for we tend to think of him as some kind of superstar, but outwardly he was neither good looking, nor physically strong. In fact, one author called him the “Ugly Little Jew”, and another 2nd Century document described him as “bald-headed, bowlegged, strongly built, a man small in size, with meeting eyebrows, with a rather large nose.” At the time he wrote this letter he was beset by intense psychological pressure (“far beyond all ability to endure”) and physical suffering (“so intense that [he] despaired of life itself”). (1:8). No wonder that he was feeling like a brittle old clay pot. Nonetheless, even an unattractive jar still has its uses, and this one’s purpose was to hold treasure — a very special treasure — “the fragrance of the knowledge of Christ” (2:14) and “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God” (4:6).

    So Paul had learned what so many of us fail to grasp, that the container has no importance of its own: the glory comes from God, not from ourselves. And this irony is no less real today, in a world where people place such great value on success, good looks and athletic bodies — where genetic engineering holds out the prospect of even longer life and even better health. But God still chooses to put his treasure in the places where we least expect it. Old clay pots we might be, but we can still be the sort that hold this treasure.

    — Walter Raymond, Christchurch

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