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CLAY IN THE POTTER’S HANDS

Guard Your Mind and Heart
July 30, 2020
Nine Things I Have Learned from Saint Ignatius of Loyola
July 31, 2020

Homily for 30 July 2020, Tuesday 17th Week in Ordinary Time, Jer 18:1-6, Mt 13:47-53

Our first reading today from Jeremiah reminds me of that intimate part in the movie GHOST, which became a blockbuster in the 1990’s. In that scene that I am referring to, Demi Moore (or the character she’s playing) is moulding a piece of clay on the potter’s wheel when her husband (the role played by Patrick Swayze), enters the workshop and sits with her on the wheel and begins to caress her very gently. She is of course distracted, so the clay which is almost perfect in shape already, flops and falls back into being a blob of clay, and she starts all over again to make something new out of it.
The prophet Jeremiah uses precisely this image. He tells us that he has observed, how the clay that is already taking shape in the potter’s hand sometimes got spoiled. When it failed to turn out the way he wanted it to, he would let it fall and he would mash it again and he would remold or rework it into a new shape.
The business of pottery remains very much alive in the town of San Matias in Pampanga, where I buy plant pots from. I have heard from one professional potter that molding pottery requires concentration and dexterity. An old pair of trembling hands is bound to make more mistakes. And it is frustrating to fail just when the pot is almost done already; you’re back to square one, with a blob of clay. The good thing is, with a little water, you can soften the clay again and remold it. Apparently, much depends on the quality, the smoothness and the pliability of the clay, as well as the firmness and the patience of the potter’s hands.
I think of the many crises that we go through in life as those moments in the work of a potter when things don’t turn out the way you want them to, and you have to start all over again.
Don’t you find it amazing how, in English, one little word can be attached to another word and it would give it a totally new meaning? I am referring to the two-letter word RE. You can prefix it to practically to any word in English and it will make that word mean something new. For example: start, restart; make, remake; think, rethink, read, reread; live, relive; move, remove; work, rework.
Even computers get stuck or bugged sometimes, leaving you no choice but to reboot, restart, refresh, or reconfigure. Sometimes you almost want to bang your head on the table knowing how much work you have done already and how you’ve ended up with nothing because you forgot to save it. Sometimes, if you are lucky, you are still able to retrieve some of it, but very often, you have no choice but to restart or reboot. It is like that during times of crisis.
I wonder if you know that the Greek word KRISIS means judgment. It is usually associated with crucial moments when people have to make a change of judgment. Maybe that’s the idea behind the English expression “Making a judgment call”. There are indeed times when people find themselves having to make a change of decision, relying only the data available, and on one’s instinct and feel of the circumstances. There are times when we just don’t have the luxury of experimentation and research, as well as the luxury of time to mull things over, when we find ourselves suddenly thrust in an unfamiliar situation.
What I like about the metaphor of the potter and the clay is that the prophet applies it to God! The portrayal of God is very human; the writer is not projecting the concept of a perfect God who, in an instant, produces things that are immediately perfect. He does not seem to have a problem with the notion of a God who also fails, whose project sometimes flops because of certain factors, or to put it better, a Creator God whose work is still in progress.
Take the example of the biblical story of salvation. He creates humankind in his image and likeness and it gets spoiled by sin. Then he has to do something about it, intervene or do a damage repair. Or like a potter he starts all over again. I know some people who find this stupid.
It does not take much imagination to think of the present pandemic that we are going through as one such crisis situation. Imagine, one tiny virus suddenly threatens the global economy, forces all of us to stay home and live like rats, interrupts our social activities, Church services, sports events, travel and tourism, parties, social gatherings, and practically precipitates the collapse of the global market.
I imagine the words of the prophet Jeremiah being addressed directly to us in this year of the Pandemic 2020, where God says, “People of the world, people of the Philippines, can I not do with you what this potter does? As clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hands!”
This is the best time to repeat the invitation of Jesus when he began his public ministry 2000 years ago. With apologies to Jesus, let me reword his message: ”This is the time for a new judgment call, a time for reconfiguration. God is reworking the world! Allow God to reform your lives, to reshape your future and believe in this Good News!”
And in answer to this invitation, let us say the prayer of Isaiah 64:8, which, I suspect, was borrowed from our first reading, from Jeremiah’s image of the potter and the clay:
“But you, LORD, are our Father. You are the potter; we are the clay, the work of your hand.”

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