A STUBBORN PERSON SAILS IN A CLAY BOAT. Whether or not attempts at building a clay boat ever happened, it’s easy to smile at the image in this African proverb. The problem, though, is that our good humor doesn’t stop us from being rigid and inflexible when dealing with our own particular “clay boat.”
Human beings are stubborn about so many things. What we’ll wear. What we’ll eat. When we will sleep. And hopefully, most of the time, such day-to-day natural inclinations aren’t destructive. But we can also be proud and unforgiving in our dealings with people. The people we like. The people we don’t like. The things we’re willing to do for others and the things we aren’t. And yet it is this same conventional, human logic that Jesus confronts in so many of his parables.
His teaching refutes long-held traditional beliefs, often referring to them with phrases like “you have heard that it was said” (Matt. 5:31, 33, 38.) Each time he does so, he lifts the tradition, the “what was said,” into a more enlightened, more loving practice. That’s because God didn’t send His son to commend us for living the way we’ve always lived or to tell us to continue doing things the way human beings have always done them. We are to change. Each day the Lord is asking us, just as he asked the Pharisees and the scribes, to quit a tradition of “blind eyes” and “hardened hearts” (John 12:40)?
Where is your hunger for real spiritual growth? The natural world is itself a “clay boat.” And it is time to stop trying to make clay into something it isn’t. Our individuality lies in a different place, in Christ. And the Lord is ever calling us to look and to listen, to “understand” with our heart and to “turn,” to be transformed (NRSV Matt. 13:15). (Turning Aside to See, chapter 21)