The Potter’s Field

Matthew 27:7-10 So they decided to use the money to buy the potter’s field as a burial place for foreigners. That is why it has been called the Field of Blood to this day. Then what was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet was fulfilled: “They took the thirty silver coins, the price set on him by the people of Israel, and they used them to buy the potter’s field, as the Lord commanded me.” [NIV]

In learning the Art of Pottery I had to learn how important it was to make sure that the clay was prepared thoroughly. If I tried to short-cut the process I learned the lesson the hard way. Pots collapsed on the wheel, cracked while drying or exploded in the kiln. It was tempting to use clay straight from the bag or from a fresh “pug” from the pugmill. I soon learned that there was no point in cutting corners.

We bought clay from a firm in Stoke-on-Trent. It came in 56lb bags. This clay had been prepared and mixed from several types and may have had added “grog” or sand. It depended what we wanted to use the clay for. For work on the wheel we ordered terra-cotta and a grey clay, both prepared for throwing. For building with slabs and coils or sculptural work we ordered a clay that had more sand and grog in. This gave the clay added structural strength. “Grog” by the way is a term used for tiny bits of fired clay.

The bagged clay had been through several processes after being dug out of a quarry. This included pulverising, using high pressure steam and numerous mixing processes. But it still needed preparation before using to make a pot.

clay being prepared by wedging

In ancient times a potter had a field. This field provided his clay. Part of the field would have the broken shards of pots that had broken in the firing process. A careless potter would have rather too large a pile of shards. Jeremiah smashed a pottery jar in a potter’s field [Jer. Ch.19]. Zechariah takes up the word and prophesies the betrayal of Jesus and the buying of a potter’s field. The picture of all the broken pottery gives us a vivid image of our human condition. Clay on the wheel can be remade if spoiled but fired pottery that has broken has no real value. It cannot be reconstituted or softened again. It is fire-hardened and chemically changed into a different material. Useful for Job to scrape his sores or for cleaning out ashes or scooping up water or to be crushed into tiny grains and mixed into fresh clay.

Perhaps the Potter’s Field is a picture of my life? Broken dreams and smashed ambitions? But the field still has fresh clay to use. There is always hope.