Tuesday

13 March 2018

Jeremiah 18:1-6

“Just like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel.” (v. 6b)

Psalm: Psalm 37:12-29


Background

One of my favourite Wesley hymns used to be ‘Behold the servant of the Lord’. I say ‘used to be’ because after I’d used in on one occasion someone in the congregation challenged me. The person who spoke to me had real objections to the phrase, “mould as thou wilt thy passive clay”.

This was her reason… Sadly, from time to time, we hear of people who have been manipulated by others. More often than not it is women being manipulated by men, be it in business, entertainment, or families.

Wesley undoubtedly took his inspiration for his hymn from today’s passage. At the time, while it took place, the concept of abuse had not been recognised in the way that we have seen it pointed out and codified in law today. Neither was the male dominance that permeates Scripture being analysed. Man meant mankind and everyone knew that. But the way the hymn is written means it can be read today in a very unhelpful way and one which Wesley would neither have foreseen, nor intended.

The hymn is about Mary, Jesus’ mother (Luke 1:38). For my friend, it spoke of a male God moulding a young woman. It echoed, or mirrored, the experience of the way in which women have been diminished or sidelined in Scripture and when we repeat this uncritically in a hymn we compound the problem. So what does the passage from Jeremiah say? It is not about a man manipulating another man or woman. It expresses the belief that, like a potter can mend a pot that has twisted on a wheel, God can take the most hurt and damaged people (you and me perhaps), and reform us as we’re meant to be. It is an expression of profound healing love, not manipulation at all.

We have to be so careful about how we use Scripture.


To Ponder

  • When hymns are being altered to make them more sensitive to people’s needs and feelings to what extent are we being critically correct, or simply true to the gospel? Why?
  • What pieces of Scripture should (or would) you not use in a Christian context today?

Bible notes author

The Revd Andrew Pratt

Andrew is a Methodist supernumerary presbyter, Honorary Research Fellow at Luther King House, Manchester, and author. He has written over 1,300 hymns.