We Hold This Treasure in Earthen Vessels
We hold this treasure in earthen vessels, that the surpassing power may be of God and not from us. We are afflicted in every way, but not constrained; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted but not abandoned, struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our body. – 2 Corinthians 4:7-15
It is so true, isn’t it. We are constantly surprised by the fact that, though we are “earthen vessels,” mere clay pots, God still desires to dwell in us, to remain in the world in and through us. We are struck speechless by the idea. How could God, knowing my sinfulness, my many weaknesses, want to enter me and stay there? Here again we are confronted with the mystery of paradox that is at the core of our faith. Yes we are afflicted in every way, from within and without. We struggle with our weaknesses, our sinfulness. We do so precisely because we have come to know God and his love for us in Jesus, and we are moved in the depth of our souls to turn away from our sins and to turn toward God. We know that God loved us, even in the midst of our sinfulness, and came among us to show us the Way, the Truth and the Life that would set us free from the chains of our sins. The subsequent verses of this passage go on to say, “The scripture says, ‘I spoke because I believed.’ In the same spirit of faith we also speak because we believe. We know that God, who raised the Lord Jesus to life, will also raise us up with Jesus and take us, together with you, into his presence.” (2 Cor. 4:13-14) It is becaue we believe, even though we are still sinners, that God comes to dwell in the fragile earthen vessels that we are.
It is also true that, because we believe and live in the world, which seems daily to turn away from God more and more, we are afflicted, perplexed, persecuted, and even struck down, but because we believe, we are never constrained, or driven to despair, or abandoned, or destroyed. We know in the depths of our being that God is with us. He is also in the community of believers, the Church. Though the Church, and we who believe, may be harrased from all sides; though we may seem, in the eyes of the world, to be foolish and anachronistic; we can take confidence in the knowledge that He is with us and, “the gates of hell will not prevail against us.” (Matthew 16:18) We know that we are not God, that we are only earthen vessels that, “carry with us in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus, too, may always be seen in our body. Indeed, while we are still alive, we are consigned to our death every day, for the sake of Jesus, so that in our mortal flesh the life of Jesus, too, may be openly shown.” (2 Cor. 4: 10-11) There is the paradox. Because we believe, though we are sinners, we carry in us the death of Jesus, who died for our sins, and we are more alive than we could ever imagine.