We have to be familiar with these two terms that refer to two conditions or states that can characterize our life. One is good which we should try to assume, while the other is bad which, of course, we should avoid at all costs.
To be an empty suit is to be quite impressive and showy on the outside, in appearance, in airs or aura, etc. but rather empty on the inside, that is, in substance, in spirit that animates our life, in real capabilities.
Dictionaries describe an empty suit as “a prominent person regarded as lacking substance, personality or ability.” A number of similar variations can flow from that general description of an empty suit.
An empty vessel, while literally meaning a container with nothing inside, is a biblical term first referred to in 2 Kings 4,1-6 where a woman, troubled by the creditors of her dead husband, was asked to get as many empty vessels so that oil can be poured into them to pay for her husband’s debt.
That term has come to mean our need to empty ourselves so that the oil of God can fill us, which is the condition or state that is proper to us. We have to empty ourselves of our own selves, so to speak, so that the spirit of God, the spirit that is proper to us since we are God’s image and likeness, can fill us.
This need has been referred to several times in the New Testament, in particular in the Second Letter of St. Paul to Timothy: “If anyone cleanses himself from what is dishonorable, he will be a vessel for honorable use, set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work.” (2,21)
We have to be wary of our tendency to become an empty suit rather than an empty vessel. We cannot deny that the prevalent culture nowadays pressure us to live some kind of hypocrisy, since we are made to worry more about our public image, our appearance than about what really matters in our life, and that is, to be truly identified with Christ, who is the pattern of our humanity, the redeemer of our damaged humanity.
This does not mean that we should not worry about our public image. We should! But it should be a public image that is solidly supported by the real substance, that is, the spirit of God animating in us.
We should worry less about our public image or our public packaging than about our quest to have God in us, since the former would just come as a consequence of the latter.
Besides nowadays, more and more people already have the skill to discern which one is just an empty suit and which one is a real man of God. Sooner or later, the real character of a person can be known by the fruit that they bear, so to speak. They are known by their deeds and the effects of their behavior.
As Christ said: “A good tree does not bear bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit. For every tree is known by its own fruit…A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good; and en evil man out of the evil treasure of his brings forth evil.” (Lk 6,43-45)*