Saturday, July 30, 2016
VESSELS OF CLAY
Last Monday’s first reading at mass was from 2 Cor 4, and began with the well-known verse 7: “We hold this treasure in earthen vessels.”
The word “vessel,” (skeuos in Greek) is a very generic term – its first meaning in the Greek lexicon is “a thing used for any purpose.” Its precise meaning must be derived from the context in which it is used. So, what is the context of the verse here? The preceding verses (3-6) are based on the metaphor of the gospel as light, and Christ who “shone in our hearts, to give the brightness of the knowledge of the glory of God in Christ Jesus” (v.6).
A footnote on verse 7 in the NAB says, “‘This treasure’: the glory that Paul preaches and into which they are being transformed. ‘In earthen vessels:’ The instruments God uses are human and fragile; some imagine small terracotta lamps in which light is carried.”
To think of ourselves as not just “vessels” but as “lamps” seems completely justified according to the dictionary’s argument that the word “vessel” gets its more precise meaning from the context. Here the context is that we each contain the light and the glory of God.
So my meditation last Monday was about how I was going to be a lamp to my students on the first day of our “First Term” of school that day. What kind of light would I show to the two novices and to the rest of my community? (I heartily recommend you try your own version of this meditation sometime; I found it very enlightening.)
A CLAY LAMP
We’ve had three funerals in the abbey church in the past several weeks, the latest being for one of our coaches, John Valerio, who died early this week. At the end of the funeral, the members of the track team stood at the door of the church, forming an honor guard, a tribute to their coach.
As I stood in the back of the church waiting for the coffin to be carried out past the students, I thought about the fact that we are all fragile creatures made of clay. The fact that John was younger than me made the meditation more pointed. But then, as I looked around at the alumni whom he had coached in the shot-put, discus and javelin, and whose lives he had touched, sometimes very deeply, I thought of the other part of that metaphor, the lamp. I realized that the reason that the church was filled with people that morning was that John had indeed been a lamp to each person there, whether his family and friends, or alumni whom he had guided to college scholarships, or how to bench-press 300 pounds, or the students standing at attention waiting for his clay remains to be carried from the church.
John had decidedly been a lamp -- albeit an earthenware one -- for so many people during his 72 years. What a great way to spend your life: bringing a glimpse of God’s glorious light to others! Now he gets to enjoy the fullness of that glory. May eternal light now shine on him.