Monday, December 5, 2011

The Clay and the Potter

On the First Sunday of Advent this year (Cycle B), the Lectionary had us read a passage from chapters 63 and 64 of the Book of Isaiah. That’s in the post-exile, messianic part of the book. The last line of the selected passage reads,

Yet, O LORD, you are our father; we are the clay and you the potter: we are all the work of your hands.

In the New American Bible, this is Isaiah 64:7. In my New International Version and my Revised Standard Version, this is 64:8. The difference appears to be in where to end chapter 63 and start chapter 64. Silly me! I had thought that the chapters and verses were standardized by St. Jerome in the fourth century.

But I digress from what I thought was interesting.

On Friday of the First Week of Advent, the Lectionary directed us to an earlier chapter of Isaiah, where the prophet is leveling his indictment against Israel, describing how she has been unfaithful to the covenant. The passage used at mass begins with verse 17 of chapter 29, but the verse immediately before it draws an interesting contrast to the selection from the previous Sunday:

Your perversity is as though the potter were taken to be the clay: As though what is made should say of its maker, “He did not make me!” Or the vessel should say of the potter, “He does not understand.” (Is 29:16)

Which chapter, 29 or 64, more closely reflects the prevailing attitude of our culture today? Are we clay that acknowledges the potter and are willing to be worked into a useful vessel, or do we think that we can shape the potter to our desires? Israel had to be conquered and sent into exile to move from the hubris of Is 29:16 to the humility of Is 64:7/8. I pray that we might respond to a more gentle correction, even as I doubt that anything short of extreme will get our attention.

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