Empty vessels make the most noise. Thursday, 16th Week in ordinary time – Matthew 13:10-17
Empty vessels make the most noise. That’s a saying I grew up with and if you have never heard that one before, then you don’t celebrate my generation and the many such interesting idioms we were brought up on. Of course, not all of them were factually true but we knew what it meant and they sent home the desired message.
It seems like Our Lord has this idiom at the back of his mind even though this idiom dates back to the 1400s when the vessel concerned was a drinking vessel and the empty vessels were foolish or witless people.
Jesus has just concluded the first of the seven parables found in the thirteenth chapter of the Gospel of Matthew. The disciples ask Jesus why he speaks to a certain ‘THEM,’ when he uses parables to communicate his message. While I will address who the ‘them’ is, it would be good to hypothesize what was behind this rather curious question. Perhaps to the mind of the disciples, the presentation of the parable of the ‘soil’ (read yesterday’s reflection) could have been presented in a more scholarly way as the rabbis did. Perhaps, Our Lord could have just dropped the storytelling and gotten to the heart of the matter.
In all probability, the disciples were refereeing to the Pharisees of chapter twelve as the ‘them’ in verse ten. Their question to Jesus would read, “Why do you speak to the Pharisees in parables?” The answer of Jesus fits in better if we safely assume the ‘them’ to be the Pharisees and this is with good reason, especially when we read this chapter with the attacks on Jesus by the Pharisees in chapter twelve.
It is to the simple and worldly unwise that Jesus has given the secrets of the kingdom of heaven. If you have any difficulty believing this then all you have to do is to search the annals of history to see that this is a fact. From the apparitions in Fatima to the ones in Velankanni. From the Popes who sit on the throne of Peter to this author who could not pass his standard seven math examination. God has chosen those who are considered foolish in the eyes of the world and made them his witnesses.
Christ is unsympathetic in his criticism of the Pharisees. They have not and will not receive the secrets of the kingdom. They may claim to have ‘knowledge’ but that it seems is a figment of their imagination for they ‘do not know the scriptures nor the power of God.” (Matthew 22:29). Christ is emphatic when he describes these ‘empty vessels’ who know (have) nothing and to add insult to injury he will take away even that nothing from them. (13:12)
It is not without reason that Christ takes on the Pharisees. These were the ‘separated ones;’ the religious elite who set themselves as desirous of being pushed to a higher calling. What they ended up being is not righteous but self-righteous. Christ now lays the charges, “seeing (the works he has done) they do not perceive (who he is) and hearing (his words) they do not listen. They can hear but chose not to listen. This was a conscious decision that they made and not their inability to understand and for this they are culpable.
The joy of presenting the simplicity of the faith in a down-to-earth manner was beneath the Pharisees who were lost in theological jargon and a world of traditions. The simple parables of Jesus which contained the secrets of the kingdom were all too quickly rubbished as gibberish by the Pharisees but was not lost on the simple-minded.
Christ continues to speak to us! While theologians have their places in their hallowed study halls of technicality and hair-splitting definitions of the faith and scripture, Our Lord is often heard the loudest by a humble preacher who speaks from his heart and wins over a sinner for heaven.