I once made a clay jar. I must have been six or seven. It wasn’t a particularly attractive jar, nor was it a great work of art. But, for some reason I was quite proud of my little jar. It became a venue for storing useful things; small change, paper clips, and so forth. Sadly, it never ended up in a museum or gallery!
St. Paul says that we, that’s you and me as people who profess the Christian faith, have this ‘treasure in clay jars,’ the purpose of which is to store the ‘extraordinary’ gifts that come from God. He also suggests that when we take out and use these gifts we will become light bearers and that ‘the life of Jesus may be made visible in our mortal flesh.’ It is an extraordinary thought, isn’t it, that the very life of Jesus ‘may be made visible in our mortal flesh.’ I don’t know how you feel about this: perhaps its something to mull over, or pray over, in the week ahead, for prayer is one of the treasures we have been given. In fact its more than a treasure its the very oxygen we breathe. Other treasures include Scripture, the Bible, and sharing in the sacraments of the church. These three, as I keep saying, are our treasures and nutrients.
Just one more thought, less we dismiss the notion of being light-bearers, or the idea that the very life of Jesus might be made ‘visible in our mortal flesh,’ as being a tad too fanciful. You have already this morning prayed for precisely this! Just consider the words of the Prayer of Preparation where we ask that under the ‘inspiration of the Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly magnify your Holy name, through Christ our Lord.’ The only way we can magnify God’s holy name is through our words and actions; our bodily functions in other words. Jesus after all was a real bodily being, a physical person, fully man; that’s the point of the incarnation. Our faith is expressed through mortal flesh.
As we let prayer, true prayer, imaginatively and creatively reading the bible and, sharing in the Eucharist shape our lives two things, paradoxically, begin to happen. First, we begin to die and then we begin to grow. St. Paul captures the essence of this paradox for as he writes: ‘So death is at work in us, but life in you.’ Yes, it is true that in order to grow we need first to die. But, the good news is that we need to die to the things that prevent us from growing into the freedom of Christ: fear, anxiety, resentment, hatred, the desire to hoard more and more material possessions, to be seen as a success and so forth. We really do need to die to these things in order to grow; in order to find real freedom and security and in order to find our deepest identity in Christ. To hold on to our fears, anxieties, resentments, and the need for things and status is truly to live life in the shallow end.
This is the mistake the Pharisees make. What they are seeking is a life governed by certainties, rules, regulations and protocol. The religion they offer is restrictive and life sapping, hence their resentment with Jesus for doing good on the Sabbath. The Pharisees haven’t learnt the art of dying in order to live. Although they have an extensive rule book there is no ‘treasure’ in their ‘clay jars.’ In fact they don’t even have a clay jar, and because they don’t have a clay jar in which to keep the deepest of spiritual treasures, they have no real freedom and liberty. They are stuck and the only resources they have available to them is their rules, restrictions and protocols. It as though they are governed entirely by the clip board rather than being guided by the Spirit and as such they can never know the unrestricted joy of living life in the deep end, guided by the Holy Spirit.
This Trinity – and please let’s call it Trinity – and never Ordinary Time, let us make sure we each and every day take the treasures out of our clay jars. Let us ask each and every day the Holy Spirit to guide us in prayer and reading the bible, and to be truly present to us in the Eucharist. If you do so let me make you one promise: you will die to all those things that prevent you from finding your deepest identity and you will grow day-by-day into both freedom and the visible likeness of Christ. We will become the sort of people who ‘perfectly magnify’ his ‘Holy name.’ And that, in a nutshell, is the entire rationale for the Christian faith.