Sermons from the Gospel of Thomas Volume 1, #1
GETTING STONED, AND LEARNING TO LIKE IT
What kind of man is it, Jesus remarked, somewhere back there in the Sermon on the Mount (and you may or may not remember that, depending on your own particular hang-ups or ideological addictions, not to worry) whom, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Well then, he went on to ask, what about your Heavenly Father? Can we expect anything less from him? Indeed not, it turns out. The Father, as Jesus thinks of him, is a classic liberal, a real generous kind of guy, a God who stands ready to give us whatever we need or ask, and much much more, as I hope to show here.
It has not always been thus, when it comes to deities, of whatever stripe. And speaking of stones, for instance, consider this anaglyph from the Book of Deuteronomy--a less than holy tome, in my opinion, but a book, believe it or not, nominated by some of our current Dominionist Christians (who pack the ranks of the GOP Congress and aspire to own also the White House) as a suitable guide (in their new “God's Government,” coming up they hope as early as January 2017) for dealing with us “liberals” and “intellectuals,” as well as assorted other troublesome Americans: A man or woman in one of the towns the Lord gave you might be found doing something evil… The person may have served other gods and bowed down to them or to the sun or moon or stars of the sky, which I have commanded should not be done. If someone has told you about it, you must look into the matter carefully... Take the man or woman who has done the evil thing to the city gates and throw stones at that person until he dies… The witnesses must be the first to throw stones at the person, and then everyone else will follow. You must get rid of the evil among you. Deut 17:2-7
Ah yes, the evil among us… What is that? Who are they? Who should we be stoning? Depends on your point of view, it turns out. Surfing the TV channels, any given evening, produces opposing opinions. We scream at the screen, where they're screaming at each other. Those hateful faces, those sickening smirks: why won't they just go away? Lies and glass houses, habits and habitats of politicians, don't appear to prevent them from throwing their stones.
It's hardly new… Throwing stones, that is. In the Gospel of Thomas (not to be found in your Bible, btw—more on this later) Jesus asks his students (“disciples”) who do you see when you look at me? Tell me then, who am I like? After Simon Peter and Matthew both strike out, with answers such as “just angel” and “a philosopher of wisdom,” Thomas comes up with a blank stare. I can't find the words, he seems to say, you're too much for me… The Great Mystery, maybe, right before me. Jesus likes his response, and takes him aside, only to whisper, we are told, three secret sayings in his ear. When he returns to the others, they can't wait. What did he say to you? Tell us please, right now.
If I were to tell you even one of the things he spoke to me, you would pick up these rocks and stone me… Such was the reply of Thomas, a man caricatured, btw, in the canonical Gospel of John, as a perpetual skeptic, a “doubter.” You may remember this Doubting Thomas. Well gather round, kids, and listen up, because here's something new for you to ponder, in your passionate search into the real truth about Christian Origins: This Jesus of Thomas may have been the real thing, the very earliest beginning of it all. What I'm trying to say is that the real Jesus, the “historical” Jesus, may well have been a Teacher of Wisdom and Thomas the first to begin to understand him. It wasn't easy, and still isn't, to decipher the words and the message of this version of “Yeshua...” The others didn't like it, Thomas getting next to Yeshua this way, showing them up. They were jealous. The stones were ever at the ready. There in Ephesus, where all this was cooking up, there were three (at least) schools of the early Jesus Movement competing with one another, vying for converts: the Johannine School with its ongoing project the Gospel of John, produced to correct the Thomas Gospel and its Wisdom Jesus, replacing that figure with its new version of Jesus, elevated now to divine status. Then came Mark and the Petrine school, feverishly working at yet another gospel to straighten out John, to bring his verbose and flowery Jesus down to earth, elevating at the same time their own man “Peter” (whom John had also disparaged, along with Thomas). Peter won out, in the end. The Gospel of Thomas had to go underground. For decades, the process continued: there was Luke and then Matthew, adding in turn mythological and ethical dimensions to the ever-evolving Jesus figure. By the time these latter two Gospels were being written they had rediscovered the Gospel of Thomas and tailored about half of it to fit anew in their now basically Pauline Jesus scenario! Much of what's in the Sermon on the Mount was first to be found in Thomas, in a form more primitive, more contextually relevant. Parables, too. Even the “Lord's Prayer” takes on a new and enhanced significance, as it lurks there unheralded in Thomas.
Outrageous stuff? Too much to swallow, so early on? Not to worry… As we slog through my projected series of Thomas “sermons” I will back up periodically, elaborating and clarifying. He that hath ears to hear, let him hear… A saying, btw, first to appear in Thomas, where alone it made sense. Not everyone will be able to hear this stuff. Most of us will end up stoned… But we do have the promise:
If you become my students,
listening deeply to my words,
even these stones will serve to you.
…Jesus, logion 19
The stones no longer threaten. Now they'll work for you. But you must promise Yeshua to listen deeply… That's the ticket. Patience, please. You can't just skim over this stuff, and make a judgment. You have to engage, be willing to live it. Because these are the words of the Living Jesus... and this is about life. Here, now, your life.
And in paradise five evergreen trees await you.
They in do not change their appearance in summer,
nor drop their leaves in winter.
If you come to know them
You will not know the taste of death.
This is the promise, the promise of 'Thomas… The name means “twin,” no less. If we stand where the Twin stands, face to face with ourselves as in a mirror, we will know what it means not to taste death. In the very first of the sayings (the 'logia') in Thomas, we are given this promise—not from Jesus, as we might expect, but from his Twin, who seems to speak from somewhere deep behind the words that death cannot touch. It is not said that we will escape the fate of all human beings to die, or that we will somehow resurrect 'on the other side.' We are simply left with the hint that whatever there is to be tasted here is different from other things of life (religions, books?) that satisfy for a moment, only to leave us with a sense of dissatisfaction. So here we have the touchstone for everything that follows---and the only guarantee that we have understood what the Twin has understood is that it does not leave the taste of death in our mouths. (see James W. Heisig, Jesus' Twin)
Become a Twin of Jesus. Taste for yourself, the Taste of Life.