The Original Heretic. The Screwloose Letters, Vol 1, #1
Only the perfect will enter this kingdom… The Screwloose Letters, Vol !, #1 Notes on the Gospel of Thomas
Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect.
No really, that’s what he used to say. Not Jesus (though of course he said it too, as for instance in Matthew 5:43, above) but my old friend the Senior Pastor Dr Garvey. Back in the old days, about a million years ago, I was his Assistant Pastor in a primeval Presbyterian Church, old style. Dr Garvey used to breeze into the Young People’s meeting and address us, now and then, and he always said it too, albeit giving it a new twist, in conclusion. “I would have you to be like me,” he would say, “perfect.”
We were shocked.
What arrogance, we said to one another, shaking our heads in disbelief. Does the man really believe himself to be perfect? Is he equating himself with the Father in heaven? We didn’t know what to do with all this. We were deeply disturbed, in fact. But Dr Garvey just grinned away, rather impudently, and then left us in our stew. After he left, I even apologized for him, young fool that I was. I wish I had him back, so that I could apologize to him. For whatever he consciously meant , he was anticipating the Gospel of Thomas… or rather re-stating its central message.
Every great religious leader, every notable prophet, started out as a heretic. Consider the Buddha, Lao-Tzu, Martin Luther, to name just a few. They all took familiar themes and re-defined them, gave them a new slant. Long before Jesus, Jews, according to the “Old Testament,” thought of the kingdom as a literal thing, and they wanted one for themselves, just like the other nations around them flaunted, with crowns, real kings on real thrones, military might, majesty. That didn’t work out too well. After Solomon, their dreams came crashing down. They began then to postpone the kingdom, to portray it as a future event, when their god would return to set it up, restoring them in Jerusalem as the rightful rulers of the world.
The “New Testament” (think of it as coming after the Gospel of Thomas!) experiments with several more “spiritual” concepts of the kingdom idea. Jesus is made to say my kingdom is not of this world. When I was in seminary, arguments raged about what this meant, whether it was futuristic, following the Lord’s return, the “Rapture,” the “millenium,” “Armageddon,” etc., or “realized” in the advent of the Church. Any or all of these ideas can be dredged from the pages of the present New Testament, drained from the swamp of ambiguity that there prevails.
But speaking of draining the swamp, how’s this for starters, from the purported original Jesus, back where it all began, the seminal riddle in saying 3 of our Gospel of Thomas, worth repeating here, yet one more time…
If your spiritual guides say to you, ‘look the kingdom is in the sky,’ well then the birds will get there ahead of you. If they say, ‘the kingdom is in the sea,’ then the fish will beat you to it. No, the kingdom is inside you and all around you, right now. Only when you have come to know your true self will you be fully known---realizing at last that you are a child of the Living One. If however you never come to know who you really are, you are a poverty-stricken being, and it is in your self-concept that you are impoverished.
This Jesus is not above a little sarcasm.
If you keep reading in the Gospel of Thomas, you will begin to see what this Jesus means when he talks about the kingdom, his original heresy. His kingdom is highly personal, highly physical, an immediate tangible aura that hangs around you, around your daily existence, transforming your world in any and every given moment. You create your own world and carry it around with you, a matter of acquiring a new state of mind, a new sort of consciousness which by-passes the world completely. Period. It was all too much for his hearers. Eckhart Tolle would understand. Let him who hath ears to hear, listen up…
It was this new state of mind that was meant by Jesus, though many years later it would be translated by the makers of the King James Bible as “perfect.”
In Matthew it would linger, a real saying of the original Jesus be ye therefore perfect, as the Father in heaven is perfect.
Do not imagine that there is no unity in the Gospel of Thomas: everything, every verse, every saying, all of it, centers around this theme of the realization that you are one with the Father. This is your kingdom.
It only remains to explain what our Jesus meant by the Father. More to follow.
Maybe Dr Garvey was not so arrogant after all.