The Haves and the Have-Nots
Gospel of Thomas, saying 70
Jesus is often said in the
gospels to have taught in parables. The underlying Aramaic word is mashal,
which can also mean "riddle." This saying from Thomas is certainly
one of them. It says that there is something inside you that you only need to
bring forth to save you. But if you are lacking it, the lack of it will prove
fatal. Now what could that be?
Note the opposite
implications. If you do have the thing within you, the way to be saved would be
to bring it out of you. This implies that if you had it and neglected to bring
it out, it would kill you. Why would this be?
Should we compare "that
which is within you" to some cancer, an appendix about to burst, Ralph's
gangrenous pancreas? Get it out! Is it toxic? Is that why you must bring it
Or is it more like a woman
pregnant with a baby, who cannot seem to deliver? After a while, there is going
to be big trouble. Levi-Strauss talks about an example of this in his essay,
"The Effectiveness of Symbols."
It was the manipulation of symbols that brought forth the baby. To bring
it forth was new life; not to have brought it forth would have been death.
On the other hand, the
riddle says that this same thing, if it is lacking, will be the death of you.
And it says nothing about trying to get it from some other source. What can
this thing be? If it is in you, you must get it out or you are dead. If you
lack it, the lack will kill you. So you wish you had it. But if you did, you
would waste no time getting rid of it!
Not having had it in the
first place, your goose is cooked. Having it but not getting rid of it brings
the same result.
The saying seems to be a
spiritualization of a Q saying found in almost identical form in Matthew 25 and
Luke 19. "To him who has, more will be given; but to him who has not, even
what he has will be taken away." Thomas has this version, too:
"Whoever has in his hand, to him shall be given; and whoever does not have, from him shall
be taken even the little that he has" (41).
My guess is that it was
originally a fatalistic proverb, acerbically commenting on the way of the
world, in classic Cynic fashion: "The rich get richer, and the poor get
As time went by, Christians
felt they needed to make the saying more edifying. So it was joined to the
parable of the Talents. There it was made to apply to venturesome living: the
one who takes risks to make something of his life is the only one who will get
anywhere, though indeed, since it is a risk, he might fail. But even this would
be better than the miserable coward who plays it safe so as not to lose what
little security he has--even if this security is a sure bet on further misery!
The devil we know is preferred over the devil we don't know.
Once it is explained this
way, the point is pretty much the same as the old maxim (already old by the
time it is repeated in the gospels) "Whoever saves his life will lose it,
but whoever loses his life (i.e., risks losing it) will save it. Like love, you
keep it by giving it away.
In the larger context of
Thomas, the saying seems to mean something different still. I think of saying 3:
"The Kingdom is within you and it is without you. If you will know
yourselves, you will be known, and you will know you are the sons of the Living
Father, but if you will not know yourselves, you are in poverty, and you are
I see a parallel here. The
kingdom is said first to be inside you, then outside you, the wording
reflecting the process of bringing out what is within. And what is that?
Knowing the truth within, realizing it, is what brings it out, brings it to the
fore. And the truth is that of your own identity: you discover your own
divinity as a son or a daughter of the Living One. You discover a divine life
within yourself--and that knowledge is great wealth; it is salvation.
But if you do not know your
true identity, then it is not your identity. It is not there to be known. Only
by the knowledge of it is it there. If you don't see it, it isn't there. It
isn't there whether or not it is ever recognized. Rather, it is a truth that
becomes true in the moment it is known.
How can that be? Tillich
says that a revelation does not happen as long as no one receives it. Because
then nothing has been revealed. It may be broadcast, but until someone tunes
in, there is nothing communicated. And revelation refers to the process of the
sender sending and the receiver receiving the message.
This is why Thomas 3 says
that "if you will know yourselves you will be known." You are both
the subject and the object of knowledge. The revelation has been sent and
received. It is a self-revelation. But it may be sent, or at least it may be there
to be known, and yet you do not see it. We seldom see what is important about
ourselves. Then no revelation happens, and there is no experience of one's own
kinship to the divine. And then we might as well say there is no kinship to the
divine. As Mr. Spock said, "A difference that makes no difference is no
So I am guessing the answer
to the riddle of Thomas 70 is this: If you realize the divine light within you,
and let it shine forth, that light will liberate you. But if you remain
oblivious to that divine light within you, that light will not escape. And,
locked away, it will finally be extinguished. And you will be lost in darkness.
"Within a man of light, there is light, and it shines forth to give light
to all within the house. But if that light within you be darkness, how deep is
Robert M. Price
Copyright©2007 by Robert
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