Jeremiah is sent by God to the potter’s house, where he learns an important lesson. The image of the potter fashioning a vessel on his potter’s wheel would have been very familiar to Jeremiah’s audience. It is familiar territory for us, too, since the shaping vessels of clay by hand on a potter’s wheel is still done in much the same way today.
What does Jeremiah notice as he observes the potter at work?
He notices first the clay. As he watched the potter shape and mold the clay, Jeremiah knew that he was looking at a picture of himself, and of every person, and of every nation. We are the clay, fashioned into useful vessels by God, the potter. Jeremiah isn’t the only prophet to draw on this image: Isaiah and Zechariah also use it, as does Paul in his letter to the Romans. Jeremiah watched as the clay was fashioned into a vessel. Then, some imperfection in the clay spoiled it in the potter’s hand and the potter crushed it and began the process again.
Jeremiah saw the wheel turning constantly, bringing the clay against the potter’s hand. The wheel stands for the turning circumstances of our lives, under the control of the potter, whose foot guides the wheel. It is the circumstances of our lives which bring us again and again under the potter’s hand, under the pressure of his fingers, so that we are shaped into a vessel that pleases him.
Then, too, Jeremiah saw the potter. He knew that God was the Great Potter, with absolute right over the clay to make it what he wanted it to be. St Paul argues this with keen and clear logic in Romans 9: “Who indeed are you, a human being, to argue with God?” he asks, “Will what is molded say to the one who molds it, ‘Why have you made me like this?’ Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one object for special use and another for ordinary use?” (Romans 9:20-21)
God’s right extends not only to us as individuals, but to communities and even nations. God has in mind what he wants us to be and to become, and like the potter, God exerts pressure through the circumstances of our lives, to shape and mold us into the vessels he has envisioned. If there is any imperfection in the clay, anything that mars the design or spoils the work, the potter simply crushes the clay down to a lump and begins again to make the vessel what he has in mind. When the clay responds as the potter wishes, he will ease the pressure to allow the clay to remain in the form it has taken.
In our community discussions this week, we have an opportunity to discern how God is shaping us now, individually and corporately. Where are we experiencing the pressure to change, to become something new and different. How are our imperfections being reworked by the Master Potter? Where do we recognize God’s hand at work?
God holds Jeremiah’s future, and the future of Jeremiah’s Israel. God also holds our future and will accomplish his purposes in and through us, when we yield ourselves to God’s loving hands and allow ourselves to be shaped by his vision of what we can be.
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