“I went down to the potter’s house and saw him working at the wheel. But the clay pot he made was marred in his hands; so he remade it into another vessel that seemed good to him.”
– Jeremiah 18:3-4
There once was a man who spent his life collecting rocks – not because he was a geologist or collector, but because he harbored grudges. Every time someone wronged him, he added a rock to his collection. It wasn’t long before the man’s house and yard were full of rocks. Yet even when his property looked more like a quarry than a residence, he could still identify each rock by the wrong it represented and remember the person who committed the offense.
I don’t know any rock collectors, but if some of us were to collect a similar symbol for the grudges we hold – or the regrets we have – we’d have quite a pile of something sitting around our house, too.
Facing a new year, or even a new day, with unresolved issues of the past is what Jesus was talking about in the parable of the wineskins: “No one pours new wine into old wineskins; for if he does, the new wine will burst the skins, the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined.” (Luke 5:37)
Wineskins were animal skins which, when new, had enough elasticity to accommodate the natural tendency of wine to swell. If new wine were poured into old skins that had already been stretched to their capacity, those wineskins would burst. Old wine could be put into old skins, but the new wine needed a new skin.
Filling a new year with old grudges works the same way: No room for compromise, no time to enjoy the new, but a continual mess to clean up when tempers erupt and the new day is ruined. On the other hand, like those new wineskins, forgiveness has enough elasticity for swelling emotions, and room for negotiation when anger subsides.
Forgiveness, the total letting go of past wrongs against others or ourselves, might be the most difficult New Year’s resolution to make. Unlike wineskins, we don’t enter the world with that elasticity. We have to cultivate it.
From the tone of this parable, it sounds like forgiveness is our responsibility. But there’s another story in the Bible that illustrates what God is willing to do if we lack the ability to do this ourselves.
Jeremiah was a young, easily discouraged prophet who wondered if anything he told the children of Israel would make them stop their sinful ways and begin living as God’s people should. God needed to send a message to his insecure prophet, so he sent him to a potter’s house to observe the artisan.
Jeremiah watched as the potter slapped a clump of clay onto the wheel and began to shape the spinning substance into a useful vessel. But something went wrong. As the vessel began to take shape, a flaw appeared and nothing the potter did could keep the vessel from displaying that ugly imperfection.
The potter had several choices. He could throw away the flawed clay, pick up a fresh batch and start over, or become discouraged by his failure and quit making pottery altogether.
The potter took the same clump of clay in his hands, removed the flaw, added some water to make it pliable and slapped it onto the wheel again. He restarted the wheel and guided the reworked clay with his fingers until a useful vessel appeared.
Forgiving and letting go of the past is up to us. But when we lack the strength to do even that much, God, the potter, can take our feet and emotions of clay in His powerful hands, and remake us in the image He saw in us all along.