Clay and Treasure

A shard of clay pottery may seem like a trivial thing, but in this case the small fragment was a monumental discovery. That’s because this piece of pottery was discovered in Judean ruins near Jerusalem that dated back 3000 years ago. It was a Hebrew inscription that was written by a trained scribe who was very probably a member of King David’s court. The shard, called an ostracon by archaeologists, records a royal message, but the letters it contains could shed much light on the Hebrew alphabet used at the time. This would have been the same alphabet David used to pen the Psalms. This weathered potsherd that turned up in 2008 gave archaeologists a rare window into the culture of the biblical writers. But to be honest, when I read the article about this rare discovery, I wasn’t so much thinking about the ancient inscription on it or its historical significance. Instead that little piece reminded me of verses 7 through 12 in 2 Corinthians 4. Let’s look at it: “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. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body. So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.” This is humbling language. Paul doesn’t talk about himself in flattering terms. But how can we compare this language with Paul’s description of God lovingly cherishing us as His children? “The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, ‘Abba, Father.’ The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.” (Romans 8:15, 16)

It's clear that Paul doesn’t claim to be somebody. He’s content to be a clay jar that holds a truly precious treasure. As we talked about earlier, clay containers served a huge range of purposes, holding everything from coins to food to water to tools. But another point that we didn’t mention earlier is that these jars were definitely disposable. They were durable for sure, but as all materials, they would eventually need to be thrown out. And besides finding occasional artifacts from houses in excavations, most of the pottery relics that archaeologists find come from mounds of containers that were thrown away. Even though back in the day, these mounds were just trash heaps of chipped pots that weren’t suitable anymore, now these dumps are treasure troves of rare first century relics. These pots may be humble items, but they are truly remarkable and valuable at the same time, depending on who’s looking at them. In a similar way, Paul humbly admits that he is not somebody in and of himself. He’s valuable because he was created by God. And even if he’s not at his prime, even if he may feel like a chipped, rejected piece of pottery, in God’s eyes he is priceless. Paul doesn’t have to let the world define his value. He can look towards his Loving Heavenly Father to find his true identity. And we have that same privilege friends. Let’s base our value on God’s loving words!