“But we hold this treasure in earthen vessels, that the all-surpassing power may be of God and not from us.” 2 Corinthians 4: 7
The above verse comes from one of my favorite passages in Scripture. St. Paul is addressing the Church in the Roman city of Corinth in the year 56 A.D., but he is also speaking to each one of us in the year 2010. The “treasure” that St. Paul is talking about is “the knowledge of the glory of God on the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Cor 4: 6) that each of us, as Christians, carry around in our hearts. The reason that we carry this treasure around in earthen vessels – our selves – is that “we do not preach ourselves but Jesus Christ as Lord” (2 Cor 4: 5). In other words, God asks us – imperfect and weak as we are – to carry out His work and spread His gospel on this earth because ultimately we are not preaching our own truth, but the truth of our Creator.
The image of the “earthen vessel,” or the jar of clay, is a beautiful one. At the time when St. Paul wrote his letters, people would have used vessels made of clay for many different purposes – carrying water, holding grains, etc. They would have understood that earthen vessels crack sometimes, and these cracks needed to be patched up and filled before they could be functional again. Similarly, we are like jars of clay – we have many weaknesses that are like cracks, and we need God’s grace to fill these cracks. If we were perfect, there would be no room for God to work His way into our beings, and we would be totally self-reliant. This is not God’s will, and we should rejoice in the fact that we depend on His grace! Whenever we are victorious in overcoming an imperfection, we must glorify God for filling in this crack in us.
“For where your treasure is, there also will your heart be.” Luke 12: 34
God has given us the supreme commandment to “Love the Lord your God with all of your heart, soul, and strength,” not because he is an egotistic and selfish being, but because he knows that loving Him above all else is the only way that we can lead truly joyful, purposeful lives. We are “earthen vessels” and our earthly selves fail us sometimes, but God is unchanging and His kingdom is eternal. Our loving God wants us to depend on Him entirely, and in speaking to his disciples Jesus said, “Seek first the kingdom of God, and these other things will be given you besides…For where your treasure is, there also will your heart be” (Luke 12: 31, 34).
God knows that we, as human beings, will give our hearts to whatever we hold as our greatest treasure, and He wants us to give our hearts to Him. If we hold possessions as our greatest treasure, our hearts will be broken if we lose our possessions to a robbery or house fire. If we hold our success as our greatest treasure, then our joy will fluctuate as our success grows and declines. If we hold our children or our spouses as our greatest treasure, then we will be constantly discontented as our children or spouses make mistakes and act in ways that are disappointing to us. But if we have Christ as our firm foundation – if we have given our hearts to God – then nothing can shake us. Disappointments will come, and tragedy may strike, but we will hold an abiding joy in our hearts that cannot be touched by earthly disaster.
The people of Haiti are suffering greatly in the aftermath of last week's earthquake, and the death and destruction present in this island nation must be overwhelming. We hear stories of dead bodies lining the streets, looters overcoming the teams of people trying to bring medical supplies and food to those who need it most, and children who have been orphaned and are suffering greatly from their own injuries. We try to imagine what it would be like to lose everything - our home, our neighborhood, our community - and we are baffled at the magnitude of this disaster. Yet we also hear stories of incredible hope and resilience in Haiti: women who are organizing marches through the streets of Haiti, clapping and singing and trying to lift people's spirits. People who are holding church services in fields because their churches have been destroyed. Communities that are pulling together to help each other to recover, even in the face of incredible obstacles.
These amazing people represent the epitome of Jesus' words, "For where your treasure is, there also will your heart be." Yes, the people of Haiti must mourn the loss of the hundreds of thousands who perished in last week's earthquake, as well as the destruction of their homes and communities. It will take a long time to rebuild, and the road to recovery will involve much suffering. But those Haitians who are already speaking a message of hope have shown that their treasure was not in their possessions or in their homes, but rather in an unchanging God. Even a magnitude 7.0 earthquake cannot touch this treasure, and no matter what tragedy may strike over the next couple of months, their hearts will be joyful if they take their refuge in Our Lord.
We, too, should not be discouraged by the magnitude of this natural disaster. We must recognize the suffering of our brothers and sisters and Haiti, and we must pray fervently for all of their needs and do what we can to help financially. Similarly, we must not be discouraged by the great obstacles that we face in our own lives. Perhaps we are facing great disappointments in our jobs, our marriages, or with our children. We must recognize the difficulties that we face and ask for God's help and His grace, but we must not lose hope. If we have given our hearts to God, then there is no earthly trial that can overcome us.
May God bless you and your families as we begin this new week...