August 2, 2018
by George Butterfield
Creighton University's School of Law Library
click here for photo and information about the writer

Thursday of the Seventeenth Week in Ordinary Time
Lectionary: 404

Jeremiah 18:1-6
Psalms 146:1b-2, 3-4, 5-6ab
Matthew 13:47-53
Praying Ordinary Time

Weekly Guide for Daily Prayer

Rediscovering Corporal Works of Mercy

In today's readings there are two powerful images that are used to describe humans and God. We are like clay and fish. God is like a potter and a fisherman.

First, the potter and the clay. Jeremiah watches a potter forming clay. Sometimes the object the potter is making turns out poorly so he tries again to make something that pleases him. The message for Israel is that God can do the same thing with them. They are like clay in his hands. What is the point being made? I do not believe he is saying that God can make Israel a poor wretch or a glorious nation,  if he wants to and, sense he's God, the potter, there's nothing Israel can do about it. I do not believe that the emphasis is on God's sovereignty or humanity's lack of free will. I also do not hear Jeremiah saying that Israel is all messed up but that is really not Israel's fault; God just was not very good when he made us and we turned out bad. God, the potter, messed up. No, I believe that the message is that Israel has become like a pot that turned out badly but that God can still take the nation and turn it into something that pleases him. It is not too late for Israel and what would please God is a nation where righteousness and justice prevails.

Second, the fisherman and the fish. Like the potter who distinguishes between good and bad pottery, a fisherman must distinguish between good and bad fish. Some fish are edible; some are not. This is a parable about the end of the age. Every human is going to be collected by God's net. Like good and bad fish that must be separated, the wicked and the righteous will also be separated. As the bad fish are thrown away, the wicked will be thrown into the abode of the condemned. As the good fish are put into buckets to be kept and eaten, the righteous will be kept by the fisherman in the Kingdom of heaven. There is a difference between fish and humans, however, in that a fish doesn't choose to be good or bad whereas a human can choose to be wicked or righteous. This is not to say that we can be righteous through our own works and merits but what it says is that we have chosen to walk on the path of righteousness, the path that leads to everlasting life. In this regard we choose what type of fish we will be.

The last parable in today's Gospel is, "Then every scribe who has been instructed in the Kingdom of heaven is like the head of a household who brings from his storeroom both the new and the old." A person with wisdom will see treasure for what it is, no matter how old it is. Everything old is not necessarily good or bad by virtue of its age and the same thing is true of all things that are new. This principle can be applied in many ways but I am reminded of a book written years ago by the scholar, Brevard Childs. He went through the Old Testament books and made recommendations for pastors on what commentaries and other types of materials to buy. He gave prices, strengths and weaknesses, and availability of resources. He warned the reader to beware of chronological snobbery. Many students of the day were all wrapped up in buying the latest commentaries by critical scholars but Childs warned the reader not to overlook pre-critical commentaries and works by people like Martin Luther, John Calvin, or even earlier authors. We had become snobs; nothing written before the Age of Enlightenment could possibly be any good. Of course, we have seen the reverse type of snobbery, too; anything younger than the Council of Trent cannot be any good. No, there is both the new and the old in a trained scribe's storeroom, one who has been instructed in the Kingdom of heaven.

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