3 August 2006: Thursday of the 17th Week in Ordinary Time
Jeremiah 18, 1-6; Matthew 13, 47-53 The Potter and the Dragnet
Before we explain Jeremiah in the first reading, we first ask how a prophet knows the word of Yahweh since a prophet has to bear the word of Yahweh, and pass on the Yahweh’s word (dabar Yahweh) to others. A prophecy is not a quiet insight or a simple act of perception as when we are inspired by song or a beautiful sunrise. But the prophet suddenly becomes overwhelmed by a tremendous arrival. The prophet has an experience of grace, the word of Yahweh comes to him. The prophet receives the revelation in a psychic state and is experienced as a) visions, in which under divine influence, the prophet with his inner eye sees things and occurrences which an ordinary person does not see such as Ezekiel when he saw a valley full of bones (Ez 37, 1-2, 7-10); b) auditions or auditory experiences from the inner ear as in Isaiah 5,9; c) inspiration as when an overwhelming insight began as a reflection. The prophets were very much involved in the history of their day, and in the problems of their environment. The words of Yahweh came in the course of his encounter with his contemporary situation and his reflection; and finally, d) symbolic perception in which an insight comes in a reality or event in ordinary life. The most common and ordinary event becomes a symbol of a deeper meaning occurring in a people’s faith. The allegory of the potter in the first reading today, is an example of symbolic perception. The prophet Jeremiah watched a potter shaping clay in the southern section of
How does God mold us into who we are today? The parable of the dragnet helps us see. A dragnet was used by Galilean fishermen. It is the sagēnē which is dragged on the shallow bottom of a lake and spread out on a rather considerable area so as to imprison indistinctly all the fish in the area. It involves the use of two or three boats with their crews. Afterwards, they begin to select or sort from the catch, keeping the worthy fish in a container with water, and throwing away litter, algae, shells, fish declared impure by Leviticus because they do not have scale or fin, or the inedible species (an eel for example was considered impure and inedible).
We will operate on two levels. First, it has to be said that we accept life as containing both the bad and the good. Our lives contain all sorts of people: the sinners and the saints; the drug addicts, the habitual criminals, the alcoholics, the social misfits, the destitute, the shameful, and the mediocre Christians. Such a mixture is inevitable. Entrance into the Church is for any body who is interested and, in a sense, even for those who are not interested, since newly-born babies are admitted on the faith of their parents. In Baptism, entrance into the Church is a starting-point, not a finishing line. Leave the sorting out to the Last Judgment.
But we can also talk on another level when sorting is done. Our lives are like dragnets that gather all sorts of things combined. We have both good and bad experiences. We have all sorts of things that we do --- desirable or undesirable. We meet all sorts of people who say all sorts of things that disturb us, inspire us, encourage us, disappoint us, or confuse us. And thus, part of growing up is to be able to make decisions including deciding values, virtues and principles that will become the foundation of our lives, our personalities, our identity and our view of life. These various experiences are used by God to mold us into whom we are today and who we will be in the future. Like clay to the potter: God continues to form us into better Christians.