A Treasure in Clay Pots
Paul's pride in his humility always leaves me a little breathless. I think that is the taproot of both his dramatic successes in the mission field and his catastrophic failures. He converts much of the known world to Christ, and his efforts are remembered to this day. In so many ways, he is the "Johnny Appleseed" of the ancient Church. Wherever he goes, the seed of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is planted. It grows, and the community we share as both disciples of Christ and apostles of His Good News are pretty much cuttings from the trees Paul planted. That image puts a slightly different spin on the idea of apostolic succession, but it is by God's grace to the purpose of today's post. Paul's efforts to spread the Gospel were an amazing success...but Paul himself is firm in today's reading that this is not a "success story."
That's the minefield we human beings wander in to this day: the harsh specter of success hovering over us, challenging us to be great--and to be recognized and remembered as great. If Paul's testimony is to be revealed, though, it is NOT about being great or being remembered for being great....but instead that we are willing vessels in success and failure to the greatness of God. Weak or strong, success or failure are all for God--that hope, life and the truth of the Gospel may be shown.
This posture goes well beyond giving glory to God for victory. How many times have we seen professional athletes do something great and then either bow down in prayer at the goal line or touch their hand to their heart and then point to heaven? Easy enough...but how many times have you seen a batter strike out and make the same gesture? How many times have you seen a Quarterback throw and interception and then take a knee in thanksgiving?
And yet, Paul asks us through his missive to the Corinthians to recognize that we are indeed like treasure stored in clay pots. We are beings that succeed and fail...and each state, as Paul sees it, is an opportunity for us to bear witness to God.
It might feed out egos to work for, desire and achieve success...but it is also to God's glory that we willingly fail, boldly, in the confidence that even defeat is something that God will work with in order to show forth life, hope and grace through the Gospel.
After all, resurrection is a non-starter....until we are willing to go to the Cross.