Eating What Was Dead… Sermons from the Gospel of Thomas, Vol. 1, #4
Jesus says, “The sky and the heaven above it will pass away. The dead know nothing of life, and the living will never die. In the days when you were eating what was dead you were making it alive. When you come to be in the light, what will you do? On the day when you were one you also became two, but when you come to recognize your twoness again, what will you do?” Login 11, Gospel of Thomas
“What is this nonsense? Half of the stuff in this so-called “gospel” doesn't even make sense, and the rest is just plain silly. So are we going to keep pretending this stuff is profound? Or does it just make us feel smarter by acting like we get it, even if others don’t? The Gospel of Thomas is a second century forgery, a heresy created much later than the original Gospels. It is just plain silly, even laughable.”
I can resonate with this friend’s opinion. I could have written this once, and not so long ago. It seemed to me then so obvious, so resoundingly incontrovertible, that the GT was just a feeble piece of crap, tailored for silly occultists, the Shirley MacLaine school.
How is it then that I have taken a 180 degree turn, and find myself advocating its profundity?
Well, here I go again, if you’re interested, attempting to explain myself. I’ll convince very few, if any—I understand that. So be it. But the seed must be scattered, fall where it may. I’ll sneak up on the subject, circle the wagons. Maybe a few tentative friendly aphorisms will prod some slumbering soul somewhere, somehow.
Yes, slumbering. To live in the light is to awaken from a slumber where we savored what was dead, thinking it alive.
Meditation. Done any meditation lately? This is the key to this writing. The Gospel of Thomas is maybe best thought of as a handbook for the technique of meditation.
It works on your brain, but only if you let it. It needs a quiet space, a little concentration. Choose a particular saying, and then do a second reading, and then a third, and then do some thought, some deep thought, and then another reading. Work on it. As with any other writing, of course, what you can get from it will depend on what you bring to it. No one (least of all I) can “interpret” it for you. You are alone with Jesus, just you and he. Admittedly, this is not for those superficial folk looking for a kiss (keep it simple, stupid) from Jesus, a walk with him in the garden, where the dew is wet on the roses and he walks with you and he talks with you and he tells you you are his own. No. This Jesus wants to challenge you—and yes, dare we say it—primarily your mind…
He that hath ears to hear, let him hear. Is there no one here to understand? Why do these phrases recur, are repeated also in the canonical gospels? Could it be because the real Jesus, the historical Jesus, was as a Teacher of Wisdom a difficult man to comprehend? Don’t let this slide, now c’mon, think about it. This alone, for me, explains why in the other gospels the disciples seem so dumb. Right up through the crucifixion, the resurrection and into the Upper Room, they still, after being his intimate companions for up to perhaps even three years, still have no clue as to what he was all about.
You will though take a walk with Jesus—another sort of walk---into a garden of Now, teeming with life. This is the “Living Jesus.” In the days when you were eating what was dead, you were giving it a certain kind of life—but that won’t work anymore. The old religious stuff that used to do it for you has slipped away, when you weren’t looking. The past also has disappeared, even your own autobiography, that you once thought was so important—or anyone else’s, for that matter. And now you know the meaning of Let the dead bury their dead… You’ve perhaps come to a place (most of us eventually do) when you can’t breathe life into it anymore. When the sky overhead rolls up like a scroll and disappears--loses its meaning as pointing to a higher heavenly realm, you will be “two,” and you will know it. Even your unity as a person has been broken. You are not the self you thought you were… you now are seen to harbor another.
So then when you emerge back into the light, what will you do?
How are you going to keep your balance when the beliefs you relied on have been turned inside out? When you know you are a divided being, hopelessly disintegrating?
You must put yourself together again---the division within you. What will you do?
If you fan the flame (the “spark,” cf. logion 10) you will come to see everything in a new light. Those who have found the place of life do not taste death any longer in the things of “life,” no longer waste their energy trying to breathe life into the past, but restore it to new life, here in the Now.
Like your jammed-up computer, you may need a new operating system. Whether you knew it or not, you came into this world equipped with a certain sort of binary vision, a dualistic, “egoic” operating system. It’s in your DNA. Everything you see is divided--into subject and object, inside and outside, yes, upper and lower, you and others around you, strangers somehow always in your way. Back then you came to define yourself a certain way, remember? You acquired a name, perhaps you chose a religion, you thought you knew yourself, knew who you were. You had to divide the world up into bits and pieces in order to perceive it. It worked for a while; it was no mistake. If we’re stuck in it though, life gets harder and harder. We cannot possibly “get it all together;” all that awaits us is more duality, more trouble.
Like the great Wisdom Teachers of all religions, Jesus calls us beyond this illusion. The Good news is that the Kingdom of God is within you: meaning you also came equipped with another operating system, latent inside you, Windows 10, built in, just awaiting download.
When you upgrade your operating system, life is going to look a whole lot different. And now you understand the Gospel of Thomas, because everything in it is a variation on this One theme: How to become a unified being.
WAIT. Let me walk that back, lest you get suddenly smug, and miss the riches that await you. You can’t exactly understand it yet; it’s more like you now have got the first clue, and are ready to proceed. For this is not just another piece of feel-good "All is One, Baby" inspirational religious prose. Its uniqueness is even unique, as you will see if you keep at it and learn to interact with it. Yes, it’s Wisdom Literature, but it transcends the concept of Wisdom that’s preserved in the canonical gospels, and clearly extends beyond the conventional Wisdom of Israel. Here we encounter stuff that some have seen as having originated as far away as Taoist China, Buddhist Tibet, and Mazdean Persia, in addition to the Hermetic, Pythagorean, and Mystery traditions of the Greeks—and then there are of course the strong undergirding Gnostic elements.
If these are the words of the original historical Jesus, then we are forced to a new insight: he was far more original than any of us ever imagined. He was no hick. Yes, I know it’s true, as many have pointed out, in our Bibles the canonical Jesus has nothing really new to say, not in morals or ethics or even eschatology. But here, in the Gospel of Thomas, he’s proposing a total meltdown and recasting of human consciousness. The route he lays out for getting there is very different from anything that had ever been seen on the planet up to that point. (cf Cynthia Bourgeault, The Wisdom Jesus)
This last sentence needs explanation?
We’ll talk about that next time.