The Cracked Pot
Lent 1: 5th March, 2017
Rev'd Dr Hugh Kempster, Vicar of St Peter's, Eastern Hill
A water bearer in India would collect water each day from a well for her master. She carried the water in two pots that hung on either end of a pole balanced across her shoulders.
One of the pots had a crack in it; the other pot was perfect. The perfect pot always delivered a full portion of water from the master's well, while the cracked pot always arrived at the house only half full.
For two full years this went on, every day the water bearer delivering one full and one half-full measure of water to the master's home. Naturally the full pot was proud of its service, perfect to the end for which it had been made. But the cracked pot was unhappy; ashamed of its imperfection, miserable that it was able to accomplish only half of what it had been made to do.
After what seemed to be an eternity of bitter failure, the cracked pot finally spoke to the water bearer. "I am so ashamed of myself," it said. "I want to say sorry to you."
"But why?" asked the water bearer.
"For the past two years," said the distressed pot, "this crack in my side has let water leak out all the way to the master's house, and I have been able to deliver only half my load. You do all the work of carrying me from the stream to our master's house each day, but because of my defect, so much of your effort is wasted. I am useless. You should throw me away and buy yourself a new pot."
The bearer paused for a moment. Then she replied to the cracked pot, "Look behind us; what do you see?" The cracked pot turned, but could see nothing unusual.
"Did you not notice?" the water bearer said gently. "The rains have been sparse over the past two years, and because of the drought the grass on the wayside is all brown and withered. But on your side of the path the grass and even wild flowers are flourishing."
"I have always known about your flaw, and long ago I wanted to replace you, but then I became mindful of the flowers. And now, every day after I have carried the water, I return to pick these beautiful wild flowers for our master's table. Were you not the way you are the master would not have had such beauty to grace his house each day."
[Jack Canfield et al, Chicken Soup for the Unsinkable Soul, pp.294-5]
Which pot are you, I wonder? Are you perfect, or cracked? And what might that mean in your life? If I was to talk to each of you, my guess is that there would be as many interpretations of the parable of the cracked pot as there are people here. That is the beauty of a parable.
My Dad is a scientist; a retired crystallographer and lecturer in physics. I can imagine my Dad perhaps calculating the difference in weight between the pots at the well, and on arrival at the master's house. He is also a Christian, and he would probably then reflect on the resultant imbalance of the pots as the journey proceeded, and how uncomfortable it must have been for the water-bearer each day.
My Mum was brought up during World War 2 and she tries never to waste anything. When we lived in England, they were still delivering milk bottles each day, and Mum would collect all the old silver bottle tops, and then send them off to a charity that was able to turn them into money. I can imagine my Mum being very pleased that the water bearer didn't throw away the old pot, but rather found a good use for it.
One of my forebears was a pioneer clergyman in the South Island of New Zealand in the nineteenth-century. He probably would have seen the crack as human sin, the water as a symbol of baptism, and the flowers as the abundant grace of the Resurrection.
I wonder how a positive psychologist would read the parable? There might be something about the resilience of the water-bearer. Each day the woman struggles with the adversity of not being able to afford to replace the broken pot. She believes that the master will fire her for not delivering enough water, and as a consequence daily she has to carry a growing anxiety, and can't sleep at night. But then suddenly, one day, through her innate appreciation of beauty, and her practice of mindfulness, the pot-bearer notices a fragile row of wild-flowers emerging along the dry pathway. Her heart is filled with thanksgiving, and then the idea of gracing her master's table with flowers each day pops into her mind.
Today is the first Sunday of Lent. The tradition language of Lent is all about broken pots. The Church encourages us to take an inner journey, to be real with ourselves, to become more mindful of who we are — warts and all!
In today's gospel reading Jesus goes into the wilderness to do battle with the devil, or one might say his inner-demons. Jesus is confronted with the fact that he is a cracked pot — he feels false pride, part of him is power-hungry, he is tempted to make selfish choices for his life and ministry. But he faces up to the complexities of his inner motivations; in the isolation of the desert he cannot turn down the volume of the inner voice of his thoughts and feelings. And having done the hard work of self-reflection in prayer, he emerges from the wilderness with a very clear sense of purpose.
This Lent, as we journey together towards Holy Week and the mysteries of Easter Day, may we too take time to be still and face up to our own inner-demons. May we make opportunities to foster a deeper awareness of ourselves and of the world and people around us.
There is a great array of study groups this Lent. Why not join one, if you've not yet done so. Nick Browne, Philip Harvey and Carol O'Connor have organised a great study program on Sunday afternoons during Lent; Bishop Graeme is hosting a group on Tuesday night; and we have a lovely group that meets at the Vicarage on Wednesday afternoons. And then on Saturday 25th March there is a Quiet Day in Point Lonsdale, a bit of desert time, to watch and pray.
As you go into the wilderness this Lent, you might discover that you too are a bit of a cracked pot; don't worry — join the club! Many of us are a bit cracked here at St Peter's!
And the blessing of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, be with you as you walk this rocky and dry path; and in the quiet and painful places, may you be surprised by God's abundant grace along the way.
The Lord be with you ...