God promised ‘all the remnant of the house of Israel’ while in exile for their rebellion:
‘Listen to me …[you] who have been borne by me before your birth, carried from the womb; even to your old age … and to grey hairs I will carry you’ (Isaiah 46:3-4).
Every morning an old man set out from a poor village in India with two big empty clay pots, one on each shoulder, and walked steadily to the well one kilometre away. He would return much more slowly, burdened down with the same two pots full of water. Then he made the same two-way journey every evening.
On the way to the well his shoulders were equally balanced because each pot weighed the same. However, along the way home, the pot on his left shoulder, being old and cracked, leaked so much, that by the time he got home he had had to push his right shoulder up higher and higher to hold the full pot in balance against the half-empty old jar on his left shoulder.
Each morning he would say to his wife, ‘I’m cracking up! I’m too old for this and my arthritis is painful.’ And his wife would reply, ‘I’m too useless to help you. I am so weak. But someone has to do this important work. Our son Raji has to labour all day with the rice in the paddy fields. Manya his wife has to take the children to school.’
Each evening he would hear the rest of his family complain. Raja would groan, ‘I’m cracking up! I must sharpen my tools for tomorrow.’ Manya sighed that she had to take the laundry to the river. Their children had no pencils or notebooks with which to record the answers to their homework questions. ‘We shall just have to memorise our answers. But I can’t, I’m useless,’ each would complain.
This went on all through the months of the dry season. Then one evening the old man imagined that the leaking pot whispered in his ear as he dragged his weary feet home from the well. ‘Why don’t you leave me back at home? I’m so old and useless. I am cracked, so I leak. In fact, you ought to put some soil in me to grow tomato plants, or even break me up to fill the potholes in the road.’
‘No way,’ the old man muttered back. ‘You are a dear old friend. You are mine – and very precious to me. It’s quite true, you do leak a lot. But just look at that line of flowers all along the left side of the road from the well to the village. They would wilt and wither and die in the hot sun just like they did on the opposite roadside. But you refresh them twice every day. You may be old, but certainly not useless or unloved.’ And he pulled his shoulders straight, quickened his step and hummed a happy tune all the way home towards the setting sun.’
Paul adds an even richer promise:
‘We have this treasure [of the gospel] in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way,… but not forsaken… So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day’ (2 Corinthians 4:7-8,16).