“Jesus said: ‘The seeker should not stop until he finds. When he does find, he will be disturbed. After having been disturbed, he will be astonished. Then he will reign over everything.’ (The Gospel of Thomas)
The Gospel of Thomas, a product of Egyptian Christianity, was one of the collections of codices found at Nag Hammadi in 1945, now popularly called the “Gnostic Gospels.” Gnostic Christianity was considered heretical since the second century. Thomas, however, was not a Gnostic. Harvard Professor Helmut Koester, along with many other scholars, feel strongly that this gospel should be included in the canon of the new Testament. It isn’t for one reason only: it exposes the deception of Christianity which bought into the Egyptian tradition that heaven–the “Far-World”–was a place to visit while we live and eventually go to when you die. Thomas proclaims in his Gospel the revolutionary teaching of Jesus that “The kingdom of heaven is within you and outside of you.” In other words, it is not somewhere up there but right here on earth, and one does not need the Church with its creeds and dogmas to get there.
In his provocative book The Jesus Papers–Exposing the Greatest Cover-Up in History, Michael Baigent presents the Gospel of Thomas as the contrast to Zealot Christianity that it is.
. . . it is clear that its information comes from a hidden tradition that was passed only to a special few; as its opening sentence states, “These are the secret sayings which the living Jesus spoke and which Didymus Judas Thomas wrote down. . . . It gives fresh information about the “kingdom”–or “the Kingdom of the Father.” Jesus’ disciples ask “When will the new world come?” Jesus replies “What you look forward to has already come, but you do not recognize it. . . . The Kingdom of the Father is spread out upon the earth and men do not see it.”
In the Gospel of Mary of Magdala, another text found at Nag Hammadi, Jesus is recorded to have issued “a warning against looking for physical evidence of the kingdom of heaven. . . . The translator, Professor Karen King of the Harvard University Divinity School, has used a nonstandard expression to replace ‘Son of Man’–she uses ‘child of humanity,’ which is probably a better phrase, avoiding, as it does, the sectarian and dogmatic baggage; for similar reasons she replaces ‘kingdom’ with ‘Realm’ . . . . ‘Be on your guard,’ says Jesus, ‘so that no one deceives you by saying “Look over here!” or “Look over there!” For the child of true Humanity exists within you. Follow it! Those who search for it will find it. Go then, preach the good news about the Realm.'”
Mary Magdalene was not liked by the apostle Peter simply because she was a woman and “unworthy of the life,” as he said of her to the other disciples, some of whom were irritated by her closeness to Jesus, who favored her over the other disciples, kissing her often on the lips. Peter is recorded by Mary Magdalene as saying “Sister, we know that the Savior loved you more than all the other women. Tell us the words of the Savior that you remember, the things which you know that we don’t because we haven’t heard them.” As it turns out, Mary Magdalene had received secrete teachings from Jesus. She replies to Peter “I will teach you about what is hidden from you.” This irritated several of the disciples who began to doubt that Jesus ever said secrete words to her and not to them, that he even spoke to a woman in private without them knowing. “Are we to turn around and listen to her? Did he choose her over us?” Peter demands to know.
The disciple Levi defends Mary: “Assuredly the Savior’s knowledge of her is completely reliable. That is why he loved her more than us.” Baigent goes on to conclude that Jesus “taught secrete doctrines that concerned the passing over to the kingdom of heaven–a metaphor, as I have noted, for the concept described by the ancient Egyptians as the Far-World, or by the Greeks variously as the land of the Blessed or the Netherworld. All depict the divine world. The disciple of Jesus who understood his teaching the best was Mary Magdalene….”
It was Mary Magdalene who anointed Jesus with precious oils days before his royal entrance into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. She alone knew the significance of this ritual anointing, an important aspect of which is that it be performed “by someone who understands what is being done, and by one who can participate in recognizing the messiah–for the anointment is just the final act of a longer process, the details of which have not been recorded in the Gospels.” Baigent concludes this chapter with these words of appraisal of the Catholic Church:
No wonder the power brokers of Rome wanted to exclude knowledge of this sacred path as well as knowledge of these additional gospels. Unfortunately–for them–they could do nothing about the Gospels that later became the New Testament except to control the interpretation of them–to control the “spin.” The conceit, of course, is that some theologians with attitude presume to understand hundreds, perhaps a thousand or two years later, what the writers meant better than they did themselves. Why ever have we believed this for so long?
Although there were always scholars and commentators who saw through the spin, it is only in recent times that the manipulation and error have come so much to the fore in public. But so far, particularly in the ornate halls of the Vatican, nothing has changed. Power prefers spin to truth.
Andrew Harvey, series editor of Steven Davies’ 2002 release, The Gospel of Thomas – Annotated & Explained, writes eloquently and passionately about this Gospel. He describes the character of Jesus and his revolutionary vision for the world with such authenticity that one might think he knew Jesus personally. I will share much of his foreword in two posts simply because it articulates so well the “alternative” I promised to offer at the start of this series–as well as the primary purpose of Jesus’ mission and ministry. He speaks of a “kingdom-consciousness.”
The Gospel of Thomas is, I believe, the clearest guide we have to the vision of the world’s supreme mystical revolutionary, the teacher known as Jesus. To those who learn to unpack its sometimes cryptic sayings, the Gospel of Thomas offers a naked and dazzlingly subversive representation of Jesus’ defining and most radical discovery: that the living Kingdom of God burns in us and surrounds us in the glory at all moments, and the vast and passionate love-consciousness–what you might call “Kingdom-consciousness” –can help birth it into reality. This discovery is the spiritual equivalent of Albert Einstein’s and J. Robert Oppenheimer’s uncovering of the potential of nuclear fission; it makes available to all humanity a wholly new level of sacred power. By fusing together a vision of God’s divine world with a knowledge of how this divine world could emerge into and transfigure the human one, the Gospel of Thomas makes clear that Jesus discovered the alchemical secret of transformation that could have permanently altered world history, had it been implemented with the passion and on the scale that Jesus knew was possible. Its betrayal by the churches erected in Jesus’ name has been an unmitigated disaster, one major reason for our contemporary catastrophe.
Unlike the Buddha, or Krishna, or any of the Eastern sages whose wisdom of transcendent knowledge left fundamentally intact the status quo of a world often characterized as illusory, the Jesus we see in the Gospel of Thomas saw and knew this world as the constant epiphany of the divine Kingdom and knew too that a wholly new world could be created by divine beings, once they had seen this and allowed themselves to be transformed and empowered as he was, by divine wisdom, ecstasy, and energy. What Jesus woke up to and proceeded to enact with the fiercest and most gloriously imaginable intensity was this new life of “Kingdom-consciousness,” not as a savior and not as a guru claiming unique status and truth–the Gospel of Thomas makes this very clear–but as a sign of what is possible for all human beings who dare to awaken to the potential splendor of their inner truth and the responsibilities for total transformation of the world that it then inspires within them.
Jesus’ full revolutionary vision in all its outrageousness, grandeur, and radical passion is to be discovered in a close reading of the Gospel of Thomas. The greatest of the sayings are like the equations of physicists Werner Heisenberg or Niels Bohr–complex but intensely lucid expositions in mystical and yogic terms of the laws and potential of a new reality, an endlessly dynamic and fecund reality created by our illusory perceptions and their sterile hunger for separation, division, and stasis.
What I have discovered on my own journey into the increasingly challenging understanding of “Kingdom-consciousness” is that as I continue to uncover and develop in my own depths the “fire” that Jesus speaks of in the Gospel of Thomas, reading the sayings by the brilliant light of this “fire” becomes even more astonishing. The sayings expand in radiance, significance, and reach as I expand my own awareness of divinity and of the powers available to all those who dare to risk transformation.
What I want to offer here is a linked reading of seven of the sayings that have most inspired me. Through this linked reading, I hope to open up to seekers everywhere the full glory, as far as I understand it now, of what Jesus is trying to communicate through the Gospel of Thomas, not just to Christians but to the whole of humanity. Let us begin with saying 2:
“Jesus said: The seeker should not stop until he finds. When he does find, he will be disturbed. After having been disturbed, he will be astonished. Then he will reign over everything.”
This saying suggests that the Jesus who is speaking in the Gospel of Thomas is not presenting himself as a Messiah with a unique realization and a unique status of mediator. This Jesus–for me, the authentic Jesus–is like the Buddha, a human being who was awakened to the full glory of his inner divinity and so knows the secret of every human being and hungers to reveal it to change the world. The life to which this Jesus is inviting everyone is not one of endless seeking, but one of finding–finding the truth and power of human divinity by risking everything to uncover them.
From his own harrowing experience, Jesus knows that finding cannot be without suffering; to find out the truth and power of your inner divinity is to be “disturbed”: disturbed by the gap between your human shadow and its dark games, the abyss of light within; disturbed by the price that any authentic transformation cannot help but demand; disturbed by the grandeur you are beginning to glimpse of your real royal nature with all its burden of responsibility and solitude. Jesus knows too, however, that if you risk this disturbance and surrender to the unfolding of your divine nature, extraordinary visions will be awoken in you–visions that will astound you and drag you into what the Sufi mystics call the “kingdom of bewilderment” that “placeless place” where everything you have imagined to be true about yourself or about humanity is rubbed by the splendor of what you discover. And from this increasingly astonishing self-discovery, tremendous powers to influence and transform reality will be born in you. Just as unprecedented energy is unleashed by the splitting of an atom, so through the “splitting” of human identity to reveal the divine identity within it, a huge new transforming power is born, a ruling power, the power that great saints and sages have displayed through gifts of healing, miracles, and undaunted stamina of sacred passion and sacrifice. The seeker that becomes a finder and ruler makes a leap in evolutionary development from human being, unconscious of the Divine hidden within him or her, to an empowered divine human being, capable in and under the Divine of flooding reality with the glory of the Kingdom. To reveal this secret, live it out, and release it in all its radical power, to make “finders” and rulers of us all, is why the Jesus of the Gospel of Thomas lived and preached and died.
I will share more of Andrew Harvey’s foreword in my next post. We are headed toward Holy Week and the Easter Season in the Christian world during which I will bring this series to its climatic conclusion with a provocative scenario of the crucifixion, death and resurrection of Jesus, a drama that forms the very foundation of the Christian Faith. Until then,
Be love. Be loved.
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