Logion 42: Jesus said, “Be passersby.”
This may be the shortest logion, yet it is rich for dialogue:
To me to be a passerby indicates someone who is traveling but does not stay, a casual observer, or onlooker, a person loose of association, a wanderer or itinerant person who is free in a way. Jesus says to take this stance as a passerby, perhaps, to encourage us to observe, to listen, to keep moving on, to not become static or to dwell.
Why would Jesus teach us to be passersby? Would it be because, as in the Buddhist tradition, suffering is thought to be caused by clinging and resisting change – so to understand impermanence alleviates this type of suffering?
There are many levels one could understand and adopt this teaching. One could become a traveler and not have a home. One could take on an attitude of detachment, to refuse to be defined by one’s circumstance or relationships. One could consider the spiritual journey as a path upon which we must keep moving, learning, and growing. However, to look more closely at our circumstance, we can recognize that everything already is passing by – there is little if anything that is truly permanent. Our homes, our jobs, our possessions, and our families – they are all impermanent. As is the natural world we see around us – even the mountains and the oceans. All things are always changing, never the same one moment to the next. The same is true of a dynamic spiritual journey.
William R. Schoedel translates the logion, “Jesus said: Come into being as you pass away.” This translation gives a very different meaning to the logion to me. This suggests that one comes into the spiritual as you pass away from the material. One commenter on another site writes, “The admonition is to be as one who ‘wears the world as a loose garment.’ To be a passerby is to be one who has let go of the world and all its things–to be a person who is spiritual.” Another writes, “ The conscious personality is transient. Pass by those who regard themselves as fixed.”
So, in this logion, Jesus seems to be suggesting a certain detachment from the world and from opinions. A life style of detachment is a sort of social radicalism that rejects commonly held values. Perhaps this lack of involvement indicates an indifference, aloofness, and an impartiality of the material world in preference to the spiritual. This supports the argument that Crystal introduced regarding the difference between the dialectic and gnostic viewpoint, wherein “at the heart of (gnosticism) is the presumption that the material world is at best irrelevant and at worst evil.” On the other hand, perhaps to “Be passersby” is merely an invitation to tread lightly upon the world, to not become fixed or set in our ways, but to remain open and free to enjoy the natural and material world, encompassing all people, places, and ideas – all the riches that are bestowed.