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Treasure in Jars of Clay

“Gold is most excellent, gold is treasure, and he who possesses it does all he wishes to in this world…“ – Christopher Columbus, Four Voyages

“The man might have died in a fit; but then the jewels are missing,” mused the Inspector, “Ha! I have a theory. These flashes come upon me at times… What do you think of this, Holmes? Sholto was, on his own confession, with his brother last night. The brother died in a fit, on which Sholto walked off the treasure! How’s that?” “On which the dead man very considerately got up and locked the door on the inside,” said Holmes.” –  Arthur Conan Doyle, The Sign of Four

“That was Flint’s treasure that we had come so far to seek, and that had cost already the lives of seventeen men from the Hispaniola. How many it had cost in the amassing, what blood and sorrow, what good ships scuttled on the deep, what brave men walking the plank blindfold, what shot of cannon, what shame and lies and cruelty, perhaps no man alive could tell.” – Robert Louis Stevenson, Treasure Island

“Not all treasure is silver and gold, mate.” – Jack Sparrow, Pirates of the Caribbean

“Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” 1 Cor.15:26, the Bible as well as in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.

When we look at the array of quotations from popular media, we see that the the word “treasure” seems to have different connotations so to simplify it for us let’s look up a dictionary.

Noun – a quantity of precious metals, gems, or other valuable objects, a very valuable object or a much loved or highly valued person.

Verb – keep carefully (a valuable or valued item), value highly.

When we check the given meaning, we see that a treasure is a valuable thing, something that deserves or requires to be well protected. Keeping these things in mind let us look into 2 Cor. 4.1-15. This letter is in many ways a letter of reconciliation, where Paul explains himself and his actions to the Corinthians who seem to have been misled by some others into thinking that Paul is not worth their attention. It was Paul who toiled amongst the Corinthians and helped them in their formative years. As he defends himself Paul tries to help them understand that he does not have any personal agenda here but rather his actions are rooted in this “treasure” that he possesses “in jars of clay”.

Jars of Clay, in Calcutta often one would find these earthen vessels kept by the side of the road during summer times and anyone is free to drink the cool water from them. It is refreshing indeed. Jars of Clay are incredibly useful objects, especially in the 1st Century. They were easy to make, relatively inexpensive but also easily broken.

One wonders then why would Paul paint this word picture for us – Treasure in Jars of Clay. On one hand, we have a precious and highly valuable object that needs to be protected and on the other, we are talking about its container which is a common everyday used item, cheap and easily broken, what kind of dichotomy is this?

Yet at the same time, one also has to remember that treasures have this ability to transform things around them.

The moment the treasure is kept inside the jar of clay – the value of that jar becomes as precious as that treasure itself.
Now if the treasure is sought the jar is sought and if the treasure is to be protected jars need to be protected.

You see that treasure inside the jar has suddenly transferred its worth or value to the humble jar also.

It’s similar in ways to an egg, as long as the egg is not boiled, we are careful not to damage its shell, but the moment we boil it and have to get the egg inside of its shell, the shell is broken up quickly and thrown into the dustbin. Similarly, no one pays much attention to a random empty envelope falling from the table but the moment an envelope containing a cheque or an important letter falls, we waste no time getting it back and under some paperweight.
A glass bottle is just that but with a dark and fizzy liquid inside it could well be a Coke, its value increases manifold. It is not just with objects it is similar with people too, Messi and Dhoni would be just like any other guy if not for the sporting skills in them. Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg would also be just like any other college dropouts if not for their skills in coding. What’s inside gives worth or value to what’s outside!

Consider with me for a moment a few questions:

  • Who or what do we aspire to be? What is our understanding of success?
  • What is the purpose of our possessions or pleasure-giving habits?
  • Will we lose our identity if we fail in our aspirations or lack some of our much-valued possessions?
  • Why do we seek to be fairer, fitter, smarter and richer?
  • Will others accept us if we lack any of these things? Will we accept ourselves?
  • What is your treasure? Remember that treasures have this innate ability to transform their containers. How is your treasure impacting you? It can be anything, it can be your ideas or philosophies, habits, or activities. We seek to fill up the emptiness within our treasure chests with these and often they end up transforming us in ways we did not initially desire.

One would think that the rich and educated will be satisfied but history and current affairs tell us they are involved in costly and more mind-boggling scams. The emptiness within demands to be filled. It’s an innate desire of every human – we seek fulfilment.

“What else does this craving, and this helplessness, proclaim but that there was once in man a true happiness, of which all that now remains is the empty print and trace?

This he tries in vain to fill with everything around him, seeking in things that are not there the help he cannot find in those that are, though none can help, since this infinite abyss can be filled only with an infinite and immutable object; in other words, by God himself” – Blaise Pascal’s Pensées

Thus, we all are in one way or the other an empty jar. Paul also describes himself as a man who is like a jar of clay – easily molded by external agents and often broken down to pieces yet the treasure that he receives not only fulfils him but fills him with passion and conviction amidst trials and terrors (2 Cor. 5:8-10).
During trying times, Paul’s treasure has sustained him, never left him alone but rather empowered him to press and overcome. It gave him hope when there was none, it was his foundation and his anchor. Do the treasures we hold onto do the same for us?

Paul’s treasure does not force upon him an obligation to conform neither does it judge him for being a persecutor but rather it makes itself at home in whatever little place Paul can give. The treasure that Paul possesses here is the gospel of the risen Christ. This good news was the treasure Paul received by grace through faith and with this treasure in his jar of clay, he could see that the emptiness within is filled. There was a joy that was complete, a peace that was complete, and a love that was complete.

When we see Paul’s life we see him transformed, from someone who killed Christ-followers to someone who shared Christ with others. We see his treasure endure despite accusations, public beatings, Roman prisons and even a shipwreck. We see his treasure build him up to be someone who built instead of someone who was broken. This is what the gospel does to us, this is what it has done to me as well.

We are all like jars of clay and within us all there is a treasure, the difference is that some of our treasures have been causing strife within us and outside as well much like Captain Flint’s treasure in The Treasure Island. The question before us then is, ‘which treasure will we keep in our Jar of Clay?’ Will we continue with our treasures or will we turn our hearts and allow the gospel to permeate within us and make us anew?

This gospel of Grace is described by Dietrich Bonhoeffer as “the treasure hidden in the field; for the sake of it a man will go and sell all that he has. It is the pearl of great price to buy which the merchant will sell all his goods. It is the kingly rule of Christ, for whose sake a man will pluck out the eye which causes him to stumble; it is the call of Jesus Christ at which the disciple leaves his nets and follows him.” He goes on to say that it “is the gospel which must be sought again and again, the gift which must be asked for, the door at which a man must knock.”

Are you ready to knock?

Shashank S. Rawat is a staffworker of UESI based in Santiniketan, West Bengal with his wife, Asa and son, Caleb.

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