320 Commentary

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This page forms part of the resources for 320 The Empty Jar in the Jesus Database project of FaithFutures Foundation

Crossan Inventory | 320 Literature | 320 Parallels | 320 Commentary | 320 Poetry | 320 Images


B. Brandon Scott in “The Empty Jar” Foundations & Facets (Forum 3.2 (June 1987) 77-80) locates The Empty Jar (Thomas 97) in the middle of a Thomas triptych, Leaven and the Assassin, Thomas 96,98.

Gene S. Lovette

This story tells us what happens when a person no longer feels nor senses his/her physical sensations or signals that are communicated by her/his physical body to the soul, i.e. the voice within. The person becomes numb to (does not hear) his/her internal voices; they are stifled. In a broader sense this depicts the detrimental results of the disconnect between the material and spiritual, the physical and soul.

At the start, the jar contains meal, meaning the staff of life, the food for the woman and family. In ancient days, the jar would have been balanced on her head, and she would have been conscious of its weight during her walk. After some distance and time, the handle breaks and meal emptied as it spills out behind her along the road. She becomes detached from her inner feelings and voices. She doesn’t hear the noise when the handle broke. For those who have ears, but do not hear, it is a problem and disaster that continues. As meal spills off, the weight on her head lightens, nevertheless she remains unaware. With intuition numbed, she does not turn around to notice the spillage behind her. Although she plods ahead, she lost contact with the past, so disaster continues.

One notices with alarm, that the woman is no longer aware or realizes the events happening neither to herself nor about her. The meal spills behind her, but she does not see nor feel the loss of the weight. Living is a weight, but numbness stifles her response. She is bereft of her vital senses of sight, hearing, touch and feelings. Under these circumstances, she is blocking out the Father’s imperial rule (in my terms and vernacular, the Spirit of Life) within her and outside of her as envisioned in Thomas 3 vvs 3-5, and as spread out upon the earth, but not seen, Thomas 113, v 4.

And the handle, the breaking of which is a key to this story. A handle opens the door that connects to opportunities, to hope, to another chance to invite the coming of the rule (the Spirit of Life) even under the most threatening circumstances.

Finally when she arrives at her house, the jar is empty. The prophetic voice, Thomas 3 v 5, tells us the she is assigned to live in poverty, and is now poverty. The angel of Elijah does not appear, nor is he invited in this story to offer help. Perhaps the empty jar woman dies of starvation, the consequences avoided by the widow of Zarephath of 1 Kings 17 v 8-16

In the Zarephath story, the widow is well aware that she and her son are on the point of starvation and have just enough meal and oil to make one more baking after which they will starve to death. She senses her physical and inner feelings and her precarious situation unlike the empty jar woman. Otherwise she would not have appreciated the approaching starvation and death threat. The “handle” in this story is the intervention and her favorable response in the drama upon the arrival of Elijah. The use of the handle here serves to extend the Spirit of Life.

In another allegory, the woman with the vaginal hemorrhaging, Mark 5, vv 24b-34, and the parallels in Matt. and Luke, this woman also pays attention to her body language and responds in order to seek healing. She refuses to give up in spite of the failures of the many physicians. Her trust in the Spirit of Life of which Jesus spoke, which commanding vision she hears, (those that have ears, do something to help yourself) drives her to “snatch” hold of the “handle”, his cloak. This leads to her healing.

The contrast with Thomas 97 is exciting. In both of these latter stories, one from the Hebrew Testament and the second from the Christian Testament, we are being told to pay attention to our physical messages, the inner body speech, and not give up. In my view, an Historical Jesus‚ commanding vision also suggests that the body and mind (or spirit) although distinguishable, cannot be separated except at one’s peril. Each takes refuge in the other. Thus one is able to work upon oneself to be healed by opening oneself with trust to the domain of the Spirit of Life, that is, the Reign of Heaven.

Could the author(s) of Thomas be allegorizing that the failure to hear Jesus' message results in the oppressed to live in poverty and become poverty when under the duress of the Reign of Domination. In contrast those trusting in the Reign of God, the two above examples, the women of the Zarephath story and hemorrhaging story, they do not surrender to despair and give up hope. They continued to feel and carry the *weights*and stresses of living life, even under duress. They reach out and thus survive. In the Zarephath story, the woman reciprocates here last bit of food and oil for healing offered by the stranger, who in the story is depicted as an angel, Elijah. Perhaps this is the root for of Jesus' reciprocity itinerancy program, food for healing.

Gene cluster's Thomas 97 with Thomas' 70, 113, 24, 3 and 42.

Th. 70:

Jesus said, "If you bring forth what is within you, what you have will save you. 2 If you do not have that within you, what you do not have [will] kill you." The Five Gospels, (Polebridge Press).

Her empty inner feelings are equal to her Empty Jar. As another allegory, perhaps the empty woman is the Israelite nation , or its people who rejected Jesus. This would be the conclusion arrived at by the Thomas community. Ultimately she should starve to death.

In Thomas 113 verses 2-4,

"It will not come by watching for it. 3 I will not be said, 'Look here or Look there' 4 Rather, the Father's imperial rule is spread out upon the earth, and people don't see it." (Ibid.)

But the two woman who saved themselves responded to their internal needs by reaching out to outside help.They felt the inner flame or voices and acted. In the eyes of the Thomas community, perhaps this was the failure of the Israelite nation by rejecting Jesus.

Thomas 24 verse 3,

"There is a light within a person of light , and it shines on the whole world. If it does not shine, it is dark," (Ibid.)

The two woman of light are worldly exemplars for those who take refuge in Jesus. But the Empty jar woman returns to an empty home and a dark future.

Thomas 3 verses 3-5,

"Rather, the {Father's} imperial rule is within you and it is outside of you. 4 When you know yourselves, then you will be known and you will understand that you are the children of the living Father. 5 But if you do not know yourselves, then you live in poverty, and you are the poverty." (Ibid.)

This saying provides a clear reference for both the three women herein and the Israelite nation. Both saved women respond to knowing themselves and were healed by passersby, Thomas 42, "be passersby." So the "Reign of Wisdom" opens one up to recognizing and inviting outside healing help. Thus the 'Spirit of Life" is nurtured within the living progeny and the living nation, the Thomas community because they call themselves the children of the living Father. In contrast, the Empty jar woman is in poverty, she returns home without the staff of life, due to her failure to know herself.

All this can be summed up in Thomas 1. The saved women did not taste death. Thomas 1,

"Whoever discovers the interpretation of these sayings will not taste death." (Ibid.)