Stay Alive or be Eaten... Eastertime Thoughts on the Gospel of Thomas, Vol 2, #7
But first you have to come alive. Back from the dead, where most of us are, most of the time.
Yes, I know, Jesus is risen and all that--but are you? Am I? Will we be in the grand parade today, the big one? Or will it be the same old song and dance, once more around the block, one more verse, same old bonnet, one last egg hunt, one more unheard sermon, and then the same old emptiness?
Well, you Christians say, we always have the promise, the resurrection of Jesus, the hope of a future rebirth, somewhere beyond the rainbow (with apologies to Judy). Somewhere down the line there’s gonna be a Great Day. Isn’t that what Easter’s all about? We’ll all be resurrected, thanks to Jesus and the empty tomb, we’ll all sing and dance, just like Fred and Judy. He paid the ransom, bought us a better future, where there’ll be no mass shootings of school children to mar our morning news, no newly launched missiles named Satan #2, no more Putins or Trumps, no Fox News to depress and dismay us. No more cancer, no trace of Diabetes #2 to plague us, for our resurrected bodies will be like his, purged, perfected, free of every blemish.
In the meantime, however, no matter how hard we try, no matter what program of self-improvement we undertake, it seems there are days when the struggle seems a bit more than we can bear. We conquer one problem only to confront another, coming up tomorrow. We toss and turn upon our beds, biting our nails, run through all those prayers and magic verses that used to work, trying to get back to sleep.
There is no resurrection in the Gospel of Thomas. No crucifixion, for that matter. How could there be, if these alleged events had not yet happened? If these sayings, which comprise this so-called “gospel,” were even hypothetically uttered by a “living” Jesus, a Jesus who spoke the words for a still living Thomas to record in his journal, as the very first saying tells us he did—what then? What if it's that early? Talk of an empty tomb would have made no sense, and yet this Jesus of the GT talks constantly of resurrection, how that it is the prime goal of every man’s earthly existence, the one thing necessary for fullness of life. In this strange book, the strange words of this strange man Jesus have come down to us in (yes!) strange form, off-putting for some, at first, but richly rewarding for those who “have ears to hear,” those intelligent enough, those few willing to allot to themselves the necessary time to decipher them. So what’s so strange about resurrection in the GT?
Answer: it’s for Now.
First you resurrect, then you die. Not the other way around. If you die unresurrected, forget it. If you go through life and you never understand this, never discover who you are, you will have lived out all your days in spiritual poverty and even the little spirituality you’ve managed to gather will be taken from you. A brutal rule… but it’s here, trust me, in these ancient pages.
If someone were to ask you who was the most popular Christian leader in all the second century, who would you name? You’d draw a blank, right? Clue: it was a man called Valentinus, virtually unknown today---and he taught the same thing, resurrection first, then death. In other words, the bodily resurrection of Jesus is not as important as we have since made it to be---rather, it is your own inner renewal that matters—and for that one, you yourself bear the singular responsibility. You must take the initiative, bring it about on your own. In brief, the concept is spiritualised, existentialised.
Sticking with our ‘strange’ motif, consider logion 60 They saw a Samaritan on the way to Judea, carrying a lamb. Jesus said ‘Notice the Samaritan with the lamb.’ His disciples said ‘He must be carrying it in order to kill and eat it.’ Jesus responded ‘As long as it is alive he cannot eat it. Only after he has killed it and it is dead will it be eaten.’ They replied ‘What other way is there?’ Jesus said ‘ You must be careful to find a place for yourselves in the realm of eternal rest, lest you too be killed and eaten.’
So what does that mean? I know, but do you? You’ll have to figure it out for yourself. Good luck. Some sayings in this strange Gospel of Thomas you will probably never quite understand, but keep at it. Just two sayings away, in logion 62 this same Jesus tells Thomas (and us?) I disclose my mysteries to those who are ready for Mystery---so keep secret from your left hand what your right hand is doing… If you’re going to understand this strange book you’re going to have to work on it, really grapple with it. It’s worth it. The promised reward is you will no longer taste death… In short, you will come alive, be resurrected. The Mystery is that this Gospel is about you, no one else, and you must find your life in your own private encounter with its Living Jesus. It is not about morality or religion or even “enlightenment.”
It is about YOU.
Finding out who you are.
In common with the second century Gnostics, I’ve always been bothered with the idea of the “food chain.” If “God” is a loving god, how could he have devised a plan for us wherein life is sustained for his creatures by means of the death of others? Every creature on this strange planet has to spend most of his time watching out for those bigger and stronger ones who want to kill and eat him or her. Oh, you say, but we’re at the top of the system, no problem. Really? Even if this be granted, there’s still the guilt in knowing that everything you eat was alive once, and not so long ago. But one thing I get from the words of the Living Jesus in our logion for today is the disturbing reality that we are ourselves in constant danger of the same fate---somebody or something somewhere wants to kill and “eat” us. Before you scoff, give this a little thought. Think about how many bullets you dodge each and every day, seen and unseen. Kim Jong Un has a missile aimed right at you. The DMV wants to take away your driving privilege. Your neighbor wants to see you evicted. If you’re a Right Wingnut, the “Liberals” want to take away your guns. If you’re a Democrat, Trump wants to take away your Social Security. And you may be right! On and on. And finally, the taste of death is always in your dried up throat, you live in fear of sickness and, ultimately, your own death. And of course old age, its portal.
So my dear sacrificial lamb, whats the remedy, this Easter? You guessed it: resurrection. But not the resurrection of Jesus (at least in this Gospel of Thomas) nor your own on some distant day after you die. No, it’s for Now, this very day. It’s here and now that you must establish for yourself a place in “the realm of eternal rest,” in other words, the Kingdom of Heaven, which is within you. Eternity of course is not endless time, or time in any sense—it’s NOW. The same thing as coming alive, and after that staying alive, watching out for those predators, real or unseen, who want to do you in, take away your joy, steal your orchids, your hard won treasures.
Staying alive is a full-time job.
Little lamb, just remember: as long as you’re “alive,” they cannot “eat” you.
So stay alive. Not just breathing in and out, but fighting back. Become a truly whole person, duly resurrected. Put on your best Easter bonnet, with all the frills upon it, and go to the head of the parade. You'll find that you're in the rotogravure!
It’s either that or be eaten...
Please don't let yourself miss this, what this Living Jesus is trying to tell you. You might be walking around, still above ground, and yet be already killed and eaten... They did it to you when you weren't looking.