February 15, 2017
“ New Jars”
Fr. Gary W. Thurman
Last Wednesday night as well as this past Sunday, Fr. Obet shared with us the powerful story of how the prophet Elisha healed the bitter waters of a certain city by throwing salt in the springs. The story illustrated the power of salt to make things around it better, which is why Jesus used it as a symbol of our lives when He called us the salt of the earth. (Matthew 5: 13) As I heard this story four times and meditated on it, I felt the Lord stirring in my spirit a further message from this story for us His people.
The first thing we must see is the identity of this city. Reading the backstory reveals that it is none other than Jericho (2 Kings 2: 15, 18). The city’s water was bitter for a reason: it had been cursed by Joshua centuries before. It had been a wicked and evil city, and was the first city destroyed by the Israelites after crossing the Jordan River at the end of their long exodus from Egypt. This city was not only destroyed, its walls had sunk deep into the earth, and its every inhabitant except Rahab and her family had been killed. In the aftermath of the battle, Joshua placed Jericho under a curse: “Cursed before the Lord is the man who rises up and builds this city Jericho; with the loss of his first-born he shall lay its foundation, and with the loss of his youngest son he shall set up its gates.” (Joshua 6: 26)
For a few hundred years after that the city had a checkered history. Not very long after Joshua’s time the Moabites re-took the place, then David got it back early in his reign; but no one did anything to develop it. After all, who wants a cursed city with bitter water? But in the time of the seventh king of Israel, the intensely wicked Ahab, a man from Bethel named Hiel decided to test the Lord. He thought, “Sayang ang Jericho! The lay of the land is good, but nobody wants it because of this silly curse - I’ll just rebuild it myself. The God of Judah will not care!”
He was tragically mistaken. As soon as he laid its foundations he lost his first-born son. He must have thought it was a coincidence, because he kept building, and lost his youngest son as soon as the gates were set in place. (2 Kings 16: 34) Too late, he learned God meant business when He said, “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.” And even after building the city it was still useless to him, because the waters were still bitter. Imagine the reputation that stuck to Jericho, bitter memories that surrounded it! It was fit for nothing except as a wilderness retreat for the sons of the prophets.
And it was these prophets, some twenty years or so after the Hiel fiasco, who approached the prophet Elisha and asked him for grace to heal the waters of the place. Wow, they had a lot of nerve, didn’t they? They were prophets, I’m sure they knew the city’s tragic, violent, and evil history. The waters were bitter for a reason: no less a national hero than Joshua himself had cursed them!
And yet, without batting an eyelash or giving a single questioning thought, Elisha agreed to their request. What? Even Elisha didn’t knew the story? Well, maybe since he was new at the job (Elijah had just gone up in the chariot of fire into Heaven, you know), he didn’t know the power of a curse.
No, he just knew the power of mercy and forgiveness. He knew it was time for Jericho, and the people around it, to be free. The curse - a well deserved curse, mind you - had been in place for several hundred years, its purpose had been served, it was time to move on.
But he also knew the difficulties of such a proposition. Precisely because the curse had been in effect for such a long time, and the very name of the city was affiliated with such ungodliness, the present-day mindsets of the people had to be broken. So he gave a seemingly irrelevant, but actually highly important, command: “Bring me a new jar, and put salt in it.” Salt was the intended instrument of healing, but choice of the proper vessel was vital, as well.
The jars of those times were made of clay. The discovery of glass jars was well into the future. Clay jars were effective, but they had one weakness: over time, they absorbed the taste or the nature of what they were storing. The taste became infused within the jar, and that taste would taint whatever the next thing was that was stored in the jar. For example, if you stored ampalaya in a clay jar for a while, the mangos you stored in the jar next would soon have a bitter taste.
Elisha knew the bitter taste the very thought of the city of Jericho left in the mouths of the people in the area. Bitterness, grudges, hatred over what had gone on in the past, memories of all the tragedy and ungodliness, made an unbiased opinion of the place impossible, and even sweet water from its spring would not change that. Before the waters could be healed, the hearts of the residents of the area needed to be healed first, or it would all be in vain.
So, the command: “Bring me a new jar.” Put aside the jars tainted with bitterness, grudges, bad memories, and hatred. Smash them. They are no longer useful. But if you bring me a new jar, a pure vessel, I can use it to administer this salt, the instrument chosen by God to heal these waters. The salt will not get tainted, and the curse will be broken.”
Did Jericho deserve it? No. But God in His mercy decreed it, and it was done. So what does this have to do with us today?
Within our lives there are people, places, even Churches, which seem cursed to us. We just have a hard time being objective toward them, perhaps because they have let us down so many times. We see them as failures, evil, and sources of trouble for us, and we can’t forget those failures. We do not regard them as candidates for healing or restoration, and certainly not for our forgiveness!
As long as we keep using the old jars with those attitudes seeped within, we will never be able to forgive, to move on. We will come up with many excuses why not, but the true reason is the tainting of the jar; and the only solution is to smash those jars, and ask the Lord to give us new jars; jars without pre-conceptions, jars without baggage, as it were. Is this possible? Can we really forget and move on?
If the Lord can give us new birth, can He not give us new jars? The two concepts are very much related. And there is another reason for us to have hope that we can, indeed, come to the Lord with renewed, clean hearts, sweet water instead of bitter.
According to 2 Corinthians 4: 6, “God, Who said, ‘Light shall shine out of darkness,’ is the one Who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.”
That’s a mouthful, hard to understand, but to simplify it, the message is that the knowledge of God’s glory, the face of Christ (His image), has been given us. And it is the next verse that makes it so powerful: “We have this treasure in jars of clay.” The image of Christ, His glory, has been put within us, jars of clay. Remember what clay jars do? They take on the nature of what they are storing. This works for things sweet, as well as things bitter. In other words, the image of Christ and His glory becomes infused within us. And if the nature of God is to not just forgive, but also to forget, we take on that nature and image, as well. With this hope we can truly move on in our lives, and have the bitter waters of our lives healed by the grace and love of God.
Can such a thing really be? Can the Lord truly lift such a curse, and bring restoration? Consider this: Jesus Himself visited Jericho at least twice, and never apologized for it. While there he healed Blind Bartimaeus, and when he was dining at Zaccheus’ home He said, “Today salvation has come to this house” - a house squarely in the city of Jericho. Does that sound cursed to you? Amen.