The human one is like a wise fisherman who cast his net into the sea and drew it up from the sea full of little fish. Among them the wise fisherman discovered a fine large fish. He threw all the little fish back into the sea, and easily chose the large fish. Anyone here with two good ears had better listen!
—The Gospel of Thomas, 8:1-4, Scholars Version translation, in Robert W. Funk et al., eds., The Five Gospels (Polebridge Press/Macmillan, 1993), p. 477
A fisherman drew in the dragnet he had cast
The skeptics at the Jesus Seminar doubt that Jesus really said that – maybe he did, maybe he didn’t. It sounds more like Aesop than Jesus. Probably someone added it later – to the apocryphal gospel of Thomas.
About all that they are sure Jesus said, that is recorded in the gospel of Thomas, is this:
The disciples said to Jesus, “Tell us what Heaven’s imperial rule is like.” He said to them, It’s like a mustard seed.
—The Gospel of Thomas, 20:1-4.
Jesus said, “Congratulations to the poor, for to you belongs Heaven’s domain.”
—The Gospel of Thomas, 54:1
They showed Jesus a gold coin and said to him, “The Roman emperor’s people demand taxes from us.” He said to them, “Give the emperor what belongs to the emperor, give God what belongs to God, and give me what is mine.”
—The Gospel of Thomas, 100:1-4
What we know about Thomas – and what we think we know – are two different things.
We think he doubted – but we know he made the astonishing faith statement, affirming the divinity of Christ, the first apostle to so openly declare it, “My Lord and My God!”
We think of him as a skeptic, a dour, sober disciple; we know he was willing to go up to Jerusalem with Jesus, if only to be crucified with him. Is this a statement of doubt – or of faith? Even if Jesus is marching to his death, Thomas will walk alongside his Master.
We think of Thomas as the first of a long line of people who needed tangible proof, a scientific demonstration, in order to believe in the resurrection. We know he was so sure the resurrection would be a physical reality that he demanded to see with his own eyes, and to put his hand into the wound in Jesus’ side. If it were Jesus in the resurrected body, it would be the same person he knew in the flesh.
We think of Thomas as a doubter, in short. We know he was a person of faith.
We think of him as an apostle, one of the twelve. We know he traveled to bring the faith. Faraway lands claim him. The Mar Thoma Christians of southern India can point you to his grave.
What we have from Thomas, finally, is not a dead-letter Jesus but a living Christ. And we know that Christ is calling us, too, to be people of faith, to think, to know, and to live the Gospel.
The journey can be perilous. How do you think the imperial powers would react to “render unto Caesar”? What does it mean to be blessed, to be one to whom the kingdom of God belongs?
It doesn’t take much to start. Faith is, after all, like a mustard seed.
A Franciscan Benediction:
May God bless us with discomfort at easy answers, half-truths and superficial relationships, so that we may live deep within our hearts.
May God bless us with anger at injustice, oppression and exploitation of all people, so that we may work for justice, freedom and peace.
May God bless us with tears to shed for those who suffer from pain, rejection, starvation and war, so that we may reach out our hands to comfort them and turn their pain to joy.
May God bless us with enough foolishness to believe that we can make a difference in this world, so that we can do what others claim cannot be done.
December 21, 2006.