In our first reading, taken from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, we discover these profound words: “We hold this treasure in earthen vessels, that the surpassing power may be of God and not from us.” When I reflect on these words two thoughts come to mind. First of all, what is the treasure that Paul is referring to? And secondly, what is Paul reminding us about when he tells us that, after all is said and done, we humans are only “earthen vessels”, mere clay pots that are important and most useful for a greater purpose than ourselves.
This treasure that we hold is referred to by Paul earlier in his letter when he talks about how we have all been called by God to avoid sinfulness and to allow the light of Christ’s love and glory to shine through us. We are all witnesses of Jesus, the Christ, who shed his own light upon us and who will bring us to the same glory that he now shares with his Father in Heaven. We are precious to God, to be sure, but we are also God’s chosen and beloved vessels who have a special purpose as disciple of Jesus Christ, namely, to reveal his love and glory to all. We are earthen vessels who hold a great treasure and that treasure we hold must always point to God. This helps us to understand Paul’s continuing thought telling us that everything we say and do must point others around us to God and not to ourselves. Discipleship is most beautiful when the fidelity of the disciple leads others to God and not to ourselves!
This is true, Paul reminds us as he continues, even in times of affliction, persecution, and in the daily dying to oneself. It would be quite easy to draw the attention of others to ourselves, especially when we are going through great trials and difficulty. But Paul challenges us to remember that no matter what it is we face, we must remember that Jesus endured all things for our sake and now, even in struggle and dying to self, we are called to reveal the love and life of Jesus who is by our side in every moment. Paul’s closing words are wonderful: “Everything indeed is for you, so that the grace bestowed in abundance on more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow for the glory of God.” We are earthen vessels who overflow with God’s love so that others will come to know the goodness and love of God, as well. Today I must try to be a faithful earthen vessel, just a simple clay pot, who points to God’s love and to share that with all whom I meet.
Fr. Pat Brennan, C.P. is the director of Saint Paul of the Cross Passionist Retreat and Conference Center, Detroit, Michigan.