The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: "Come, go down to the potter's house, and there I will let you hear my words." So I went down to the potter's house, and there he was working at his wheel. The vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter's hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as seemed good to him.
Then the word of the Lord came to me: Can I not do with you, O house of Israel, just as this potter has done? says the Lord. Just like the clay in the potter's hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel.
Praise the Lord, O my soul;
I will praise the Lord all my life;
I will sing praise to my God while I live. (R./)
Put not your trust in princes,
in the sons of men, in whom there is no salvation.
When his spirit departs he returns to his earth;
on that day his plans perish. (R./)
Happy are they whose help is the God of Jacob,
whose hope is in the Lord, their God.
Who made heaven and earth,
the sea and all that is in them. (R./)
Jesus said to his disciples, "The kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and caught fish of every kind; when it was full, they drew it ashore, sat down, and put the good into baskets but threw out the bad. So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous and throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
"Have you understood all this?" They answered, "Yes." And he said to them, "Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like the master of a household who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old."
When Jesus had finished these parables, he left that place.
Today the symbolic actions of Jeremiah announce the creative intention of God, the divine potter, to collapse the misshapen clay back into its primitive form and start over again in forming the people of Israel. The Gospel concludes Matthew's main section about the reign of God (chapters 11 to 13). In these readings we find God's merciful way of starting over again. Jesus suggests that life is like a storeroom full of new things as well as the old.
Biblical religion is generally marked by a forward vision towards a new future. It never consecrated a past golden age but kept moving towards its messianic age. Along the way Israel took monumental leaps, changes that were required by cultural or national crises, like the Philistine threat which led to the unification of the people into a one capital, one temple system under David and Solomon. Other changes were needed to renew and purify the people, as Jeremiah suggested under the prophetic symbol of God as a potter, moulding clay jars: Whenever the vessel which the potter was making turned out badly in his hand, he tried again, making of the clay another vessel of whatever sort he pleased.
God is the divine potter who asks, "Can I not do to you as this potter has done?" There is continuity. The clay is the same and the potter is the same, just as the ark carried memories of Moses. Yet all these transitions are difficult. They can seem as drastic and cruel as the gospel parable of the dragnet with worthwhile fishes and useless ones. In the fierce ordeal, some are hurled into the fiery furnace. Yet, this is not the end of Jesus' sermon. He adds one final parable, the storeroom from which "the head of the household.. can bring.. the new and the old." At all transitional moments in our personal life or our church or national existence, we need to be courageous to suffer through the change, and clear-sighted to recognize the will of God and even his glorious presence in the new stage along the way, safeguarding tradition and genuine continuity with the past.
The parable of the dragnet cast into the sea suggests that at the end of time there will be a separation out of the good from the wicked. However, this is God's work and it will happen at the end of time. We often make the mistake of thinking that it is our work and that it should happen in the course of time. We can be prone to deciding who is good and who is bad here and now and behaving in the light of that judgement. Yet, when we make such a judgement, we are prone to getting it wrong. We see the good in ourselves more easily than the good in others and the bad in others more easily than the bad in ourselves. We also fail to appreciate that people can change for the better, with God's help.
The image of God as the potter in today's reading suggests that God can take what comes out wrong in our lives and reshape it into something good. We are all a work in progress. God may have begun a good work in us but God has yet to bring it to completion. Judgement belongs to God at the end of time, and the judging God is also the creator God who is constantly at work to bring good out of evil and new life out of what has come out wrong. As humans, we should be very slow to take on God's work of separating the good from the evil. As Paul says in his first letter to the Corinthians, 'Do not pronounce judgement before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness.'