Thomas logion 97 and Mark 4:26-29/david

If I bracket out [the kingdom of the father is like] from this Thomas saying, it feels more like Aesop than Jesus. It feels folk-tale-ish on the order of “don’t count your chickens before they’re hatched.”

Reintroduce the “kingdom of God” simile and place it on Jesus’ lips and it takes on an eschatological referent.

I must say it would not have occurred to me to link Thomas 97 and Mark 4:26-29 together. I read Thomas as linked more clearly with the Philippians passage:

Let Christ himself be your example as to what your attitude should be. For he, who had always been God by nature, did not cling to his prerogatives as God’s equal, but stripped himself of all privilege by consenting to be a slave by nature and being born as mortal man. And, having become man, he humbled himself by living a life of utter obedience, even to the extent of dying, and the death he died was the death of a common criminal.

Creation and then Incarnation was an act of kenosis. A self-emptying of the divine prerogatives. Consequently, using Christ as our model, if we would be godly (god-like) disciples, we too must empty ourselves of self-will.

At a political and economic level this links to the so-called preferential option for the poor of Liberation Theology. And so also to the Beatitudes and the Sermon on the Mount/Plain. Blessed are those who mourn, because they will be comforted. Emptied of their own resources they are now in a position to receive comfort and new resources through the grace of God.

If I were then to link all this to Mark 4:26-29 — then I must go back to me earlier comment. We are called to be faithful not to produce growth. And as Marshall points out we are called to be faithful in circumstances where we have incomplete understanding of what it may mean to be faithful. The growth belongs to God. And so — bringing Thomas into the picture — loss also belongs to the grace of God. When our plans wither then too we must say with Job — the Lords gives the Lord takes away — blessed be the name of the Lord. Then discern — does faithfulness in this situation call for change of direction or renewed effort? And again — discernment will be partial not complete — we see as in a glass darkly.

Marshall’s comment on incomplete knowing as sparked much though in me. In principle I knew this and this has been my main complaint against that kind of biblical literalist who places scripture at the foundation of all Christian faith and practice. Literalism at that level is about eliminating all ambiguity — when sometimes the whole point is the ambiguity and our responsibility to be faithful in the face of it.

At the same time I also know this is my own failing as well. I have missed many an opportunity to do both good and to do well by seeking certainty before action. There are too many times I could have been faithful but was afraid to risk being wrong.


5 responses

  1. What is not possible for us is easily possible for God. And we are not separate beings; it’s our efforts to live as separate beings that cause the whole difficulty.God is the Mommy/Daddy you don’t grow-up-and-leave. (We try; the Prodigal Son story tells us how that turns out. It’s like a hand trying to walk off and leave us behind…If our hand tries to live as if it weren’t part of a body–like it had a separate brain of its own–it’s going to find life difficult, plus there’s always that pesky arm dragging it back. The solution is not for the wandering hand to “die,” but for it to come back knowing that it’s really our hand, not The Lone Finger-Monster.) We can’t have infallibility; it wouldn’t even be good for us. It is well to strive to notice and follow God’s nudges, but we are not called to spend our lives attempting to escape being the the person we are, who after all is a worthy creation and temple of God.And there’s no virtue in trying God’s patience: “Is this all right? Do you really want me to brush my teeth now? Oh wretch that I am, how am I to know Thy will?!!!”Trust God. You can only know your path by God’s help–but can’t you trust God to provide it? If you should miss your cue–Can that happen by accident?It’s like what my wife’s orchestra teacher used to tell timid musicians. “If you’re going to make a mistake, I want to hear an honest mistake!”

  2. “Sin boldly.” — Martin Luther

  3. What I was really working to say…If you thought you were possibly being “unfaithful” but it really felt like the right thing at the time… Your intuition of what God actually wanted may have been more accurate than your thoughts about what “being faithful” would have required.(I know, I know. Sometimes it’s the other way around; people say “We have to, this is what’s practical” when they’re turning away from their best impulse. But even our stumblings are numbered.)

  4. i rather think that’s sort of what Martin Luther was saying too. Though i must admit i don’t ahve the immediate context of the quotation to verify that.

  5. I’m in partial unity with both forrest and david, regarding Christ’s intent in this saying.One has to remember that these were far more primitive times, when the growing and harvesting and grinding grain into meal represented far more human labor and, consequently, far more worth, than it does to a supermarket shopper today. The woman, in losing a whole jarful, has just experienced a disaster comparable to losing your wallet with a whole week’s pay in it. Unless she is rich — and most of Christ’s hearers surely were not — she will need the goodwill and charity of her neighbors in order to get by for a while.The key structural commonalities between this saying and Mark 4:26-29 are surely not hard to see. A person does something important related to her/his survival. Time passes while she/he is not paying close attention. Then the results of what she/he has done become apparent.In Mark 4:26-29 what happens is beneficial to the doer: the Lord giveth to one who has done well. In Thomas 97 what happens is painful: like the foolish virgins of another parable, the woman suffers.Christ is, in both cases, calling attention to the importance of acting in accordance with ordinary prudence and foresight in the everyday world. And he is saying, “The Kingdom is (also) like this” — i.e., the Kingdom is likewise a place where actions have consequences, for better or for worse, so that it is important to act one’s whole life in accordance with prudence and foresight.Prudence and foresight in spiritual matters require a different set of actions from prudence and foresight in worldly ones. One who is prudent and foresighted on the worldly level sows his field in season and checks her jar for cracks. One who is prudent and foresighted in spiritual matters does good and right things for and alongside his neighbors, and does not waste her hours in forgetfulness of God’s immediate presence.I don’t think Christ was speaking of anything more exalted than this. But that doesn’t mean we should think any less of these teachings. It is precisely on the level of the spiritually commonplace that joy and wisdom and sanctity are built, one humble commonplace step at a time.

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