Thursday, February 11, 2010

A Corinthian Cracked Pot

Keenly aware of my shortcomings, I begin today's post with a fitting parable from India.

In the village, water for everyday use is drawn from a well that is some way away from the villagers’ living areas. One day, a man went down to the well to draw water like he always does everyday. He balances a pole on his shoulders and there are two large pots in which he carries the water home with. One of the pots had a crack in it, and while the other pot was perfect and always delivered a full portion of water at the end of the long walk from the stream to the master’s house, the cracked pot arrived only half full.  For a full two years this went on daily, with the bearer delivering only one and a half pots full of water in his master’s house. Of course, the perfect pot was proud of its accomplishments, perfect to the end for which it was made. But the poor cracked pot was ashamed of its own imperfection, and miserable that it was able to accomplish only half of what it had been made to do.  After two years of what it perceived to be a bitter failure, it spoke to the water bearer one day by the stream. “I am ashamed of myself, and I want to apologize to you.” “Why?” asked the bearer. “What are you ashamed of?” “I have been able, for these past two years, to deliver only half my load because this crack in my side causes water to leak out all the way back to your masters house. Because of my flaws, you have to do all of this work, and you don’t get full value from your efforts.” The pot said.  The water bearer felt sorry for the old cracked pot, and in his compassion he said, “As we return to the masters house, I want you to notice the beautiful flowers along the path.” Indeed, as they went up the hill, the old cracked pot took notice of the sun warming the beautiful wild flowers on the side of the path, and this cheered it some. But at the end of the trail, it still felt bad because it had leaked out half its load, and so again the Pot apologized to the bearer for its failure. The bearer said to the pot, “Did you notice that there were flowers only on your side of your path, but not on the other pots side? That’s because I have always known about your flaw, and I took advantage of it. I planted flower seeds on your side of the path, and every day while we walk back from the stream, you’ve watered them. For two years I have been able to pick these beautiful flowers to decorate my masters table. Without you being just the way you are, he would not have this beauty to grace his house.”

I am like that cracked pot.  I am no great person, in fact there is more than one crack in me.  I make wrong choices, say and do the wrong things and yet God still does great things through me. I often stand in awe of the fact that God chooses to use me, in the ways that He does.  I consider myself blessed and privileged to be able to serve Him and be used by Him to serve others, in spite of or perhaps because of my weaknesses. There is no way I could have become who I am or achieved what I have without God working in and through me.

All through the Old Testament, the theme of God using the weak things of the world to fulfill His purposes is evident, with the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ being the culmination. That theme continues to permeate the New Testament and arguably no where is this theme more present than in Paul’s 2nd letter to the Corinthians. Paul clearly declares that God’s glory is magnified in the weakness of His disciples and their reliance upon the Father. Just as Christ became a servant all the way to the cross, so to should the disciples of Christ, becomes less so that God Himself becomes more.

This is a beautiful letter that radiates God’s glory through the authenticity and vulnerability of His servant and apostle Paul. I love the authenticity that is revealed as we see Paul’s anxiety rise as he anticipates the response to the letter of rebuke he sent.  "When we arrived in Macedonia province, we couldn't settle down. The fights in the church and the fears in our hearts kept us on pins and needles. We couldn't relax because we didn't know how it would turn out." [7:5] Then the struggle between the heart that does not want to hurt, the humanity that desires acceptance and the call to obedience and doing what in the long-run will glorify God is illustrated wonderfully in Paul’s words “Even if I caused you sorrow by my letter, I do not regret it. Though I did regret it – I see that my letter hurt you, but only for a little while – yet now I am happy, not because you were made sorry, but because your sorrow led you to repentance” [7:8-9] My mind in reading this immediately goes to the parent who knows that discipline is necessary in order to raise the child in the ways in which they must follow, but at the same time is broken hearted in having to do it and so says “this is going to hurt me more than it hurts you”

The openness of Paul in revealing his broken humanity serves as a wonderful example for the reader. As his loneliness, discouragement and suffering bleed across the pages, we witness at the same time strength of Faith, a trust in Hope and reliance in God that is as equally authentic and therefore believable. “We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted but not abandoned; struck down but nor destroyed” [4:8-9] “Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all” [4:16-17] The truth of Paul’s reality provides us perspective, that yes we too will suffer but there is a purpose there is a plan and it is all to the glory of God for He is in control.

It is in a strange way encouraging knowing that Paul himself struggled and was burdened with a thorn in the flesh, and fitting that we never know what that thorn is. It is encouraging because here we read of a great man of God, a pillar of the faith, who himself was not perfect, nor without struggle, pain, weakness or brokenness, he is revealed in this letter, to suffer in many of the same ways we all do. It is fitting that we do not learn what the thorn in His flesh was, because then each of us can relate to Paul, and take comfort in the same words of God that brought him comfort “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." 

Like Paul, I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses.  I just let Christ take over! And so the weaker I get, the stronger I become. 

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