Cracked Jars and Golden Scars — by Brad Jersak

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There’s a crack, a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in
The religious ego — our ‘inner Pharisee’ — demands perfection, is embarrassed by our failings and punishes us for them with self-loathing. Co-opting the God-given conscience, it ascends to the judgment seat reserved for Christ alone and points the accusing finger of condemnation. The fruit is anxiety, shame and an intense desire to shrink back, to burrow into the mud and hide out our years. It reminds us of our inadequacy and sets up this ordinance of hypocrisy: “Your failings disqualify you — how dare you ‘let your light so shine before men,’ knowing that your life is unworthy of the message you carry.” The religious ego would humiliate us into a shroud of perpetual silence. 


David knew the weight of his own desperate failures and the public crucifixion of his reputation as a man supposedly “after God’s own heart.” His confession in Psalm 51 would become part of the national public hymnal, repeated regularly not only by the Levitical worshipers, but also later in the weekly chants of Chrysostom’s Divine Liturgy. The original lyrical process would no doubt have sounded much more guttural, when David groans,

Have mercy on me, O God,
    because of your unfailing love.
Because of your great compassion,
    blot out the stain of my sins.
Wash me clean from my guilt.
    Purify me from my sin.
For I recognize my rebellion;
    it haunts me day and night.

         (Psalm 51:1-3)

I imagine Paul, too, preaching in his early years to congregations that included widows and orphans of his own persecution, would have found that his ‘sin was ever before him,’ staring him in the face through grieving eyes not yet ready to forgive or trust. 

Eventually, though, he comes to this: 

6 For God, who said, “Let there be light in the darkness,” has made this light shine in our hearts so we could know the glory of God that is seen in the face of Jesus Christ. 

We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves. 

13 But we continue to preach because we have the same kind of faith the psalmist had when he said, “I believed in God, so I spoke.” (2 Cor. 4:6-7, 13 NLT)

Fragile clay jars … cracked characters who know only the need for mercy, and somehow, as Leonard Cohen sings, receiving that light. There’s a crack in everything and everyone, though some crevices  are more obvious than others, rising up behind us like the cringe-worthy back of a crouching plumber. 

And yet, says Cohen, that’s how the light gets in. The religious ego seals every access point for the light of mercy — resists grace because it cannot admit to the poverty of spirit required to inherit the kingdom of God. Not that we flaunt our failures publicly. Confessionals and recovery meetings and spiritual directors are a way to ‘come into the light’ without the cruelty and titillation of the media circus or facebook status. 

But Paul goes further. It’s not just that the light gets in. The light shines in our hearts and out through the cracks. One of my co-workers described this beautifully: those covered in the scars and wounds inflicted by oneself and by others may find that this treasure of light — this good news of grace — may find their scars glowing gold with the light of the Gospel. Cracks of light and scars of gold. And, inspite of their foibles and imperfections, like Paul find themselves breaking through the sound barrier, regaining their voice, singing their anthem and shining in spite of themselves.  

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