Paul’s metaphor of a treasure in earthen vessels is an intriguing one. He presents the paradox of a bursting, precious, unbreakable treasure sitting inside a fragile, thin, unreliable jar. For one thing, it calls to mind the paradoxes so sprinkled through St. Vincent’s writings. Work until you drop – but be sure to get enough rest. Act as if everything depended on you – proceed as if everything depended on God. Leave God – for God. And as with any paradox, one side acts as a check on its opposite.
\The treasure here is the love of God — lifegiving, healing, comforting, limitless. The jar made of the stuff of this earth symbolizes the nitty gritty processes of everyday life — the how of getting things done, the down and dirty steps needed to distribute the treasure.
If all one does is speak about the treasure, theologize and rhapsodize about it, its bounty never lands on this earth. But if the focus is only the implementation steps, on the details of how to spread the treasure, its abundance is squeezed down. Each pole of the treasure/earthen vessel paradox acts as a limit on its partner. The mechanisms and methods are needed to distribute the treasure since without them, everything is up in the air. But the treasure is meant to keep stretching (and even breaking) the container, pressuring it never to settle for what it currently holds. Still again, on the one hand if you have no way to deliver the love of God, it remains under a bushel basket. On the other, if you get all caught up in the details of the how it’s communicated, that ever-expanding love stays inside that jar.
In all our planning and executing, we are the earthen vessels. The treasure is God’s own Self in The Spirit, always meant to press against and even pierce through its container. Vincent would have a sharp eye for the right tension between what we are attempting to proclaim and the vehicles we use to proclaim it.