The Powerless King… Sermons from the Gospel of Thomas, Vol 1, #5
Let whoever has become rich be king, but let whoever holds power surrender it.
………Logion 81, Gospel of Thomas
Now this is my kind of king. Solitary and unrecognized, an incognito potentate.
A personal note: not one of my friends has even the slightest clue about my own kingdom, wherein I reign supreme. (Now don’t cry ‘narcissism!’).
Except Lucinda. She got on to me after a while. She even had the temerity to quote (in her farewell note) a line from the Russian poet Alexander Pushkin, to express her new insight: thou art a king, and kings must live alone. So ta ta, my lord, ta ta. Remember that song from the old musical Jesus Christ Superstar? Mary Magdalene sings I don’t know how to love him. Perhaps she had glimpsed that her man was more than just “a little weird.” He seemed to harbor some inner power with which she was not willing or prepared to contend. Not that Jesus minded so much; he seemed quite happy to keep it that way, to keep his true identity hidden. Thus in the canonicals, Mark’s version of Jesus just may be more true to the real figure they remembered than was John’s—for Mark recalls the Jesus who wanted to play down his “messiahship,” keep it a secret. (Rather than shout it from the housetops, proclaim in daily in the public square--as John makes him do).
Mark’s Jesus didn’t have much to worry about, however, for there were not many Lucindas around perceptive enough to see through his disguise. There were always those though who wanted to see him get tough with the Roman oppressors, to come out strong as a revolutionary leader, so that they could crown him properly, put him on a literal throne over there in Jerusalem. This “humble” stuff was for them off-putting, to say the least. They had not the slightest clue that there was any such thing as a secret king…
Last time I promised I’d explain, didn’t I? Tell you what was the truly revolutionary element in the teaching of Jesus…? Well, this is it. He emptied himself out. A king who drained himself of all his power, became reckless, extravagant. He radically squandered everything he had and was. It was a scandal for those who watched, for everywhere he went he banqueted, drank and danced, kept company with women and disreputables, healed on the Sabbath. They hadn’t seen this before, and it brought confusion.
They were looking for a little piety, a brand they could recognize.
See, always before, in the mystic tradition of all peoples, the way to God was up. Now ask yourself, c’mon now, haven’t you always assumed that the spiritual journey was an ascent---not a descent? Most students of the Wisdom Tradition have assumed it as well--that this climb up Jacob’s Ladder, this trip with Elijah in his fiery chariot all the way up to the Throne of God, this movement with Plato’s Diotima up the stairway of Eros to final Enlightenment, was almost archetypal, that it was indeed the very essence of the sophia perennis, the “perennial wisdom,” as Aldous Huxley wanted to call it. The Essenes would have agreed, not to mention the Sufis: if we can only contain and preserve the sacred energy of the “chi” or “prana” or Life Force, rather than let it trickle away, then we can maybe coax it up the ladder of spiritual ascent. And it worked, I must add; it's a time-honored tradition.
But this “Yeshua’ (Jesus’ real name, in Aramaic) of the Thomas Gospel is doing something no one has hitherto seen: he's throwing it all away. And advising his students to do the same.
This was new.
Still is, truth be told.
We’re not quite ready to hear this, no not yet. If ever.
His new way to his new "Father" is not up, Yeshua wants us to know, but down. Down and out. Down: to the dregs. No job, no money, become a standby, if need be, even a beggar. Give it up, the idea of recognition, fame, glory, reputation. Out: outward to others. If you want to find the Father, look for him in those around you. The face of Jesus your twin is seen in your neighbor, in those difficult and annoying characters you meet every day, or see on television. Yeah, they don’t know who you are, and don’t care. You’ll be Rodney Dangerfield, get no respect, King though you know yourself to be, deep inside where the “spark” resides. You will be “rich,” too, if you’ve been with Yeshua and have listened deeply to his words, attained the higher mind he wants to lead you to, a knowledge that will make you a King, a ruler over The All—yes indeed, but having attained this sovereignty, he wants you to immediately surrender it, hide it, chuck it even---become that great paradox, that great enigma that he is himself, as your twin: the Powerless King.
And only now is it possible to make sense of the “Sermon on the Mount…” For that section of the Gospel of Matthew is composed almost entirely of warmed-over sayings from the Gospel of Thomas, anachronistically inserted into this later literary effort of the emerging Great Church. These sayings are impossible to take seriously until they are seen in the context of the earlier GT Jesus who wanted to empower his students as No Power Kings, to give them his new operating system, the higher state of mind he was calling the Kingdom of the Father. It was "not of this world..." And yet, strangely enough, it was.
And now he says to us, if we have ears to hear: Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light, and you will discover the state of rest. …Logion 90
He wants to make us rich, beyond all our wildest imaginations, but then he asks us to throw it all away, as he did. Is this nuts or what?
The Kingdom of God, in the Gospel of Thomas, is a concept not all that easy to grasp. For me, it’s worth the effort, and a whole lot more, if only for the reason that I am convinced that this is the real Jesus we’re hearing, or something very close. At the least, we’re in the ball park. We’ve misunderstood him for two thousand years… but then, what else is new? They didn’t get it then either. But it’s there if you care, and it’s as fresh and new as Now, if you want to listen. It takes a while to kick in. "The Gospel of Thomas addresses itself to a subtle elite, those capable of knowing..." (Harold Bloom, Where Shall Wisdom Be Found) It has to be admitted, this is not for everybody. Unlike perhaps Gnosticism in general, this is not a "religion for intellectuals;" it is anything but... And yet, it needs a certain receptivity, an elusive awareness. You have to pay attention, and sustain it, have to spend time with Yeshua, willing to wait, to ponder. He that hath ears to hear, let him hear...
Next time we’ll tackle it, this Kingdom of God thing, original version. It’s not what you think. Like everything else in the GT, it’ll twist your mind around. Clue, from Paracelsus, as quoted in Norman O. Brown in Love’s Body: he who enters the Kingdom of God must first enter his mother and die. That could have been in GT, in fact is. Yes, that’s the boat in which we’re all afloat. For now, that’s our destiny, to die—but the original Jesus wanted to introduce us to our real mother, which is ultimately the Kingdom itself. Ever been troubled by the saying in the canonicals where Jesus says we’re to ‘hate our mothers and fathers,’ as he says he does, or we ‘can’t be his disciple?’ It’s not so much his actual parents but birth itself he’s railing against. In the GT, in context, it makes sense at last: for my mother made me to die, but my true mother gave me Life. (logion 101) It is here and now, the gift is promised: whoever lives the interpretation of these words will no longer taste death. (logion 1!). The Kingdom is a new state of mind, life-centered, Reality-centered, present right now in this physical body we live in, sensory, tangible, a new mind and body. And by the way, Norman O. Brown, whose student I once was, could not have known the GT, though he well-nigh rewrote it in Love’s Body.
“As we surrender to this Guide, hearing and obeying his voice, we transcend ourselves and come to know…the meaning behind all things and of our own existence. At the end (which is also the beginning) the hidden treasure is finally known ‘on earth as it is in heaven’ and the veil dividing heaven and earth, Creator and creature, Knower and known is ripped away and we are revealed for who we really are.” (Lynn Bauman, GT). For you see, that’s what’s been stolen from us, the knowledge of who we really are… and of our lost Kingdom.
But more later.