Once upon a time there was a small village, and in that village there was a boy who went out with two jars every day to the town’s well to get water. One of the jars he used was flawless in every way, and would not lose a single drop of water as he carried it home. The other jar was deeply marred, and had a gash in it that led it to spill out much of the water that was poured into it, so that the jar would be half empty by the time that the boy returned home from the well. Day after day the boy went to the well to get water and the broken jar grew more and more despondent at the fact that it lost half of its water while the flawless jar lost none. One day after they returned home from the well the broken jar said to the boy, “Why do you bring me day after day to the well when I pour out half of my water before we get home. I cannot fulfill the purpose of a jar, so I am not fit to be your servant.” The boy replied to the jar, “Tomorrow when we go to the well, look at the difference between your side of the path and the other side of the path, and you will have your answer.” So, the next day, when the boy walked to the well, the broken jar saw only grass on the side of the path. But after filling the two jars with water and beginning his walk back, the broken jar saw, as water poured out through its gash, all kinds of flowers planted on the side of the path, watered by what poured out of it, and the jar understood that even a broken jar that cannot hold its water in still serves a purpose in making the world a more beautiful place.
The Bible often speaks of human beings using the language of pottery . To give one example, in Job 2:8, Job takes a piece of broken pottery to scratch his sores when he is given painful boils by Satan. In Jeremiah 18, God compares himself to a master potter, and compares the people of Judah to His clay that He can shape however He wishes. In the next chapter after this, in Jeremiah 19:10-15, broken pottery has a prophetic message of judgment. As it is written in Jeremiah 19:10-15: “Then you shall break the flask in the sight of the men who go with you, and say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts: “Even so I will break this people and this city, as one breaks a potter’s vessel, which cannot be made whole again; and they shall bury them in Tophet till there is no place to bury. Thus I will do this place,” says the Lord, “and to its inhabitants, and make this city like Tophet. And the houses of Jerusalem and the houses of the kings of Judah shall be defiled like the place of Tophet, because of all the homes on whose roofs they have burned incense to all the host of heaven, and poured out drink offerings to other gods.”’ Then Jeremiah came from Tophet, where the Lord had sent him to prophecy, and he stood in the court of the Lord’s house, and said to all the people, “Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: ‘Behold, I will bring on this city and on all her towns all the doom that I have pronounced against it, because they have stiffened their necks that they may not hear My words.’””
This is not the only time in the Bible where pottery is used to make a dramatic message of judgment. We find another similar example in Matthew 23:25-26, in the middle of a long series of condemnations of the Pharisees. Matthew 23:25-26 reads as follows: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you cleanse the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of extortion and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee, first cleanse the inside of the cup and dish, that the outside of them may be clean also.” Both Jeremiah 19 and Matthew 23 speak about people as being pottery that has become unclean. As it happens, there is a law that deals with what happens when clay pottery in particular becomes unclean in Leviticus 11:33. While people or items of wood or clothing or skins or sacks that touch unclean animals must be washed to be clean, earthen vessels are judged differently, as it is written in Leviticus 11:33: “Any earthen vessel into which any of them falls you shall break; and whatever is in it shall be unclean.”
It cannot be denied that we live in a world that is deeply broken. As human beings, we are broken in body, in mind, in heart, and in spirit. We are broken by our sins against others, and by the sins of others against us. We come from broken families, we suffer through broken marriages and broken relationships and broken friendships. We are broken by diseases and ill health, broken by the sins of our fathers and mothers, broken by the sins of our children. We are broken by what we do, what we say, what we write, and what we think. We are broken by the horrors that our eyes have seen and that our minds have dreamed, and broken by the absence of what we have dreamed of and what we have longed to see. We are broken people in a broken world, sometimes broken in few ways and sometimes broken in many ways. Some of us scarcely enter this world before we are broken, and some of us live a long time without seeing ourselves as broken at all. Yet God is a master potter, and we are His clay, and He has called many broken jars to serve Him, and in His loving hands to be molded and shaped anew in His image, so that we may be broken no longer, and so that we may encourage a broken world that healing for our brokenness is to be found in His hands. If for a time we are broken jars, let us make the most of it, knowing that we were not formed to remain broken forever, but formed for wholeness and for glory in His kingdom, where all things are made whole and new.
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