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The Riches of Thomas

Dear All,

Welcome to this, the first of a regular series of spiritual reflections which are to be posted to the St Anne's website. The point of the reflections are to present spiritual themes and matters of faith in a fresh, imaginative way.

For this first post I want to draw your attention to one of the greatest non-canonical Gospels, The Gospel of Thomas. This is not the place to go into the full history of this Gospel. The Gospel is a collection of saying attributed to Jesus. What is striking about the sayings is how suggestively they echo the sayings of Christ in the four Biblical Gospels. What the Gospel of Thomas does is to make the figure of Christ strange and unknown again. If you read the Gospel (and there are many good versions out there) you never quite know what is coming next. And what you find, again and again, is how each saying seems to take you, ever deeper, into the mystery of God and what life can look like if we learn to live out of the resources of that mystery. The sayings, like Jesus' sayings in the Biblical Gospels, work like poetry, they open up beautiful new worlds, where truth can be half-glimpsed, intuited, but never fully known.

Anyway, here is one saying, number 3, from the prologue of the Gospel of Thomas.

'Jesus said, "If your leaders say to you, 'Look, the kingdom is in heaven,' then the birds of heaven will precede you. If they say to you, "It is in the sea," then the fish will precede you. Rather, the kingdom is inside you and it is outside you. "When you know yourselves, then you will be known, and you will understand that you are children of the living father. But if you do not know yourselves, then you will dwell in poverty, and you are poverty."'

(From a translation by Marvin Meyer)

The above quote gives an example of the peculiar spiritual genius of this Gospel. The first saying bears a strong resemblance to Jesus' teaching of the inner kingdom found in Luke. In the version in Thomas the inner and outer kingdom are brought into dynamic alignment, 'the kingdom is inside you and it is outside you.' If we know the kingdom interiorly we will also see the kingdom in the world. In the second half, Jesus points to how we discover God in the growth of our self-knowledge and, conversely, if we do not know our own depths, we will always find ourselves lacking.

It seems a tragedy that a Gospel as profound and enriching as Thomas has somehow historically been declared suspect. When you read it you discover a Jesus who complements the Jesus we find in the four Biblical Gospels. A Jesus who is always pointing to the hidden nature of the divine, so close to us that we often can't see it, and who is always inviting us to follow him into a life transformed by the presence of God.

The Reverend Ben Brown



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