Thursday, September 06, 2007

Potters, Philemon et al



Readings are here.

Jeremiah speaks of God as a potter in Sunday's reading from the Hebrew Scriptures. We have songs where we sing of "you are the potter, we are the clay." At one time I did pottery and the comparison of the songs with their gentle rhythm and sense of God shaping us has little to do with the actual process of making pots. First the clay is mixed with just the right amount of water then it has to be slammed and pounded to rid it of air bubbles. Too much water and it will just be mud -too little and it will crumble. It will explode in the firing if all air is not removed. Once those steps are complete it has to be centered on the wheel - pressed down and held tight so it will not fly off into pieces. Now the potter begins to shape and pull the clay into a pot. Often potters will stop and cut it in half to see if the sidewalls are even. Very few pots make it to the kiln -- where another transformation begins.

This metaphor of Jeremiah reflects closely Jesus words about being a disciple and following in his way - putting him first, picking up our cross, and giving up possessions.

Quite a contrast to Paul's smooth letter to Philemon. Paul encourages, exhorts and appeals to Philemon's better self in his letter to the slave owner. Paul seems to accept that slavery is a reality and that Philemon has the power of life and death over Onesimus. Jewish law opposes the keeping of Jewish slaves so there is some tradition for Paul to oppose slavery. The reality of his current culture - where slavery sometimes is better than some other states of life - makes Paul tread carefully with Philemon. This letter was used by the opponents and supporters of slavery during the Abolitionist times. An example of how the Bible can be used when one wants to support a certain belief system. Did Jesus oppose slavery? He is silent on this subject yet in our day we find it horrifying.

I find this letter raises more questions than it answers on the issues of being faithful in the midst of culture - being "in the world yet not of the world." It does teach me that sometimes cajoling and appealing to other's sense of fairness will get further than beating them over the head with my ideas of what is right and wrong.