The woman and the broken vessel

[97]. Jesus says: “The Kingdom of the Father is like a woman who takes a vessel of flour and sets out on a long road. The handle of the vessel broke: the flour spilled out on the road behind her without her knowing it and stopping it. When she arrived at the house she put the vessel down and found it was empty.”

Parables are so wonderfully rich – different meanings arise from the parable for each person who reads them, and can change over time based on our circumstance and present awareness. I had read this parable in the past, and simply thought it was about finding oneself broken and empty as we journey the spiritual path, but now I find new meaning.

This parable suggests to me that the kingdom of heaven is an unexpected thing, and that it is nothing to do with what we are able to carry, but rather, what we are able to lose. Some of us live our lives accidentally, unaware of what we leave behind on the path. However, it may be that in loosing what we have, in becoming empty of what we carry that we enter this kingdom of God. The kingdom of heaven is an awareness of the presence of God within us. It is in this void, in the emptiness that a state of grace can be felt.

When the parable ends, there are so many unanswered questions. For example, I wonder about the significance of the broken handle – it was not a crack in the bottom of the vessel that leaked the meal, but rather the handle – the very part of the vessel in the woman’s hand. Surely the weight of the vessel became lighter as she walked; yet the woman did not even notice this. Why is it meal or flour, her humble food that is lost, and not her wealth or knowledge or her self-concept? How did the woman feel about this loss? In Blatz’s translations this loss is alluded to, “…she had not noticed the misfortune,” but this evaluation is not mentioned in all of the translations. I wonder what is the woman’s reaction when she finds her jar broken and empty? It is suggested that this empty vessel connotes recognizing that one’s life is meaningless, broken, and without true substance. However, becoming empty and finding oneself in the kingdom of heaven could also be akin to feeling complete freedom from the burdens you carry.

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6 responses

  1. I think that is one of the most amazing things in Thomas — the woman with the jar.

  2. The apostle Paul, described Jesus as one emptied himself. In Christianity we are hung up on imagining God as all-powerful and all-knowing. So when someone comes along saying thay are one with God the way Christ was we panic. But for Paul, we become most divine as we give up what we have and who we are — empty ourselves for the sake of another.God did this in creation. Christ did this in incarntion and again in his death. This is the attribute of God we are to look to and to emulate.

  3. I like your thought that it may be not what we are able to carry but what we are able to lose. Perhaps as we begin the journey, we have all this stuff, as it leaks out it may provide nourishment for those along the way. When I read about some of the great lovers of God, they seemed to need less and less as they went along. Not just materially or naturally, but also in terms of spiritual ‘helps’ or ‘traditions’. The emptier they became, the more they were overtaken by God.Great thoughts. Thank you. Before reading this I had only thought of her as a woman needing to be more aware of what she was losing, like the unwise virgins running out of oil. This opened up so much more for contemplation.

  4. Hi Meredith. This is an interesting saying because it doesn’t seem to make obvious sense … like you mentioned, why doesn’t she notice that the jar is leaking? One comment I saw at a Thomas site said about this … Jesus is saying that our lives are lived by accident. I like the positive view you took of the emptiness waiting to be filled 🙂

  5. In another saying Thomas speaks of the little children who take off their clothes and trample on them. The flour here seems much like the clothes– all the (false, phony) things we thought we had and were; the kingdom becomes evident when we no longer need or desire all those ‘things’.

  6. Wow, so much going on here. Is she upset over the loss of the flour? Is she in trouble because of it or does it represent her losing something she didn’t really need (the material) because she was preoccupied with what she had spiritually? If this is a stupid thing to say because I haven’t read past posts, I apologize. If I go back, I’ll never catch up!

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