I have always loved the second epistle of St Paul to the Corinthians. His vulnerability, weakness and helplessness without God pervades every chapter, and yet it is in his sorrows that he triumphs. It is in the midst of the weakness that he perseveres.
In the fourth chapter he speaks of the light of Christ, and how it shines through our weakness.
For what we preach is not ourselves,but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ. But we have this treasure in jars of clay…
Christ’s light shines in our hearts to give us the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ. This is powerful imagery–God’s glory radiant in the face of Christ. Earlier in the chapter he spoke of the face of Moses–so radiant with the glory of God that it had to be veiled. I’m thinking of the Holy Face and the radiance of the light of Christ perceived at Eucharistic adoration, but St Paul says we have this treasure in “jars of clay.”
What does he mean by “treasure in jars of clay”? A couple of things. First, he is referring to our physical bodies. Christ’s eternal light dwells within our frail bodies of clay. The imagery is of the clay lamps as commonplace and ordinary in his world as a light bulb is in ours. We are simple clay lamps, he is saying, as ordinary as can be, yet filled with the supernatural light of Christ.
There is more. He is also referring to the story in the Old Testament of Gideon–who went to war with a clever secret weapon. (Judges 7) He instructed his army to bear torches hidden in clay jars. They were to sneak up on the enemy under cover of darkness, then break the clay jars, blow their trumpets and cry, “A sword for the Lord and Gideon!” The burst of light gave them the element of surprise–blinding the enemy and the trumpets and war cries terrified the enemy and gave Gideon and his army the advantage.
The Lord had already instructed Gideon to reduce the number of men in the army. Rather than build up the army with numbers, he chose only the best men to fight. Something strange was going on…Read more.