r m p







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 forth? 

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 poorer." 

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 poverty." 

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 difference." 

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 that darkness!"

Robert M. Price




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