The Work of His Hands; Thursday in the Seventeenth Week of Ordinary Time

Image: Nature’s beauty after the storm, near Behchoko
Jeremiah 18.1-6 | Psalm 146 | Matthew 13.47-52

For many people in the north fishing is an everyday activity in order to provide food for the table.  When fishing for subsistence you cannot put aside a stockpile that will last the winter if you rely on a single hook and line, so nets are the tool of the trade. The problem with a net is that it does not discriminate. Any creature that gets tangled up becomes part of the harvest whether it is desired or not. That does not mean that any part of the catch gets wasted, but it does mean that, when the nets are pulled from the water, the best fish will end up on the dinner table and some will be fed to the dogs.

In the parable, which Jesus shares in today’s gospel, the Kingdom of Heaven is compared to a net which catches fish of every kind including those which are desirable and those which are not. It is clear that a judgement is going to made at the time that the nets are gathered and some of those who are caught up will be saved while others will be discarded. It seems like a very harsh teaching and yet it describes perfectly what we expect if we keep in mind that God is just. Good and evil exist side by side in this world but in a perfect place, like heaven, it is impossible that something like evil could be allowed to be present. Therefore, at some point it must be identified and removed.

Rather than focus on the negative side of that reality it is better to remember that what Jesus shared in the parables is meant to be good news. In this teaching we understand that we have been given an understanding of what we are being called to, not after it is too late, but with plenty of time to make the changes in our life that are necessary.

The work of the prophet Jeremiah was focused precisely on this task. His words were all meant to bring about conversion in the hearts of the people who heard him preach. He wanted them to know first of all that they had strayed from a good path and were wandering but also that it was not too late for them to turn and get back on track.

In today’s first reading Jeremiah uses the image of a lump of clay on the potter’s wheel. As the wheel rotates, the potter must carefully guide the malleable clay into the form that he has in his imagination. Unfortunately, sometimes the laws of physics take over and the creation taking shape collapses and turns into a spinning blob of muck. That does not mean that the clay has to be thrown out. Unlike a block of marble that, once broken, can never be put back together, clay can be reformed and reformed again. The potter, undeterred, simply needs to start anew and bring the clay back into shape with the gentle caress of his guiding hands.

If we look at the teachings about the judgement that comes at the end of time or at the end our days we might be motivated to change by fear, but fear does not bring lasting effects. What does provide lasting motivation is that if we start to make small changes in our life, we quickly find that we enjoy the benefits that the changes bring. It can be painful at first, like an addict giving up a drink or cigarette. But if we stick with it we find that, relieved of toxic bad habits, our body quickly begins to heal itself and, as we renew our relationship with God, we find quick relief and healing to our bruised and battered spirit as we become whole again.