May 16, 2007


Caption: These guys found the grain that was spilled. Will we?

The guiding thread through this week's Goat Rope, in addition to rants on current events, is a discussion of the Gospel of Thomas, a collection of Jesus' sayings that didn't make it into the New Testament.

If this is your first visit, please click on the earlier entries.

In the first three canonical gospels, Jesus' public ministry begins, after his baptism by John and a period of temptation in the wilderness, with the proclamation that the Kingdom or Reign (Greek: basileia) of God was at hand.

People have rassled over what that meant pretty much since then. Most often, the Kingdom was viewed as the decisive intervention of God and the end of history, which would include judgment of the living and the dead followed by God's glorious reign over the elect.

But there are elements of the tradition in which the Kingdom was seen as beginning in and through the actions of Jesus and his followers (such as "the Kingdom of God is within [or 'among'] you" in Luke 17:21). In other words the kingdom may not have been viewed exclusively as a future state: it might have been a verb or a program to be enacted.

What would that look like?

It's right there: Jesus and his followers would go from peasant community to peasant community in Galilee. Wherever they went, people would gather and share what food they had in a climate of equality. The sick would be healed, unclean spirits cast out, sins would be pronounced forgiven, outcasts would be included in the life of the community. And the good news of the Kingdom--compassion, solidarity, and counter-cultural wisdom--would be proclaimed.

The Gospel of Thomas goes even farther. The Kingdom is always already here if we could only see it:

Jesus said, "If your leaders say to you, 'Look, the (Father's) imperial rule is in the sky,' then the birds of the sky will precede you. If they say to you, 'It is in the sea,' then the fish will precede you. Rather, the (Father's) imperial rule is inside you and 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 live in poverty, and you are the poverty." (3)


His disciples said to him, "When will the rest for the dead take place, and when will the new world come?"

He said to them, "What you are looking forward to has come, but you don't know it."(51)


His disciples said to him, "When will the (Father's) imperial rule come?"

"It will not come by watching for it. It will not be said, 'Look, here!' or 'Look, there!' Rather, the Father's kingdom is spread out upon the earth, and people don't see it." (113)

In a parable found only in Thomas that may be authentic, the Kingdom is spilled all over the place:

Jesus said, The [Father's] imperial rule is like a woman who was carrying a [jar] full of meal. While she was walking along [a] distant road, the handle of the jar broke and the meal spilled behind her [along] the road. She didn't know it; she hadn't noticed a problem. When she reached her house, she put the jar down and discovered that it was empty. (97)

In other words, it's not where she thought it was but is spilled out all along the way. Now that's something to think about. Maybe we ought to pay a little more attention.

Meanwhile back at the ranch...

CONTRADICTIONS OF FREE TRADE. James Surowiecki has a good item in the May 14 New Yorker about how the US is using "free trade" negotiations to push for excessive protections for intellectual property at the expense of the needs of developing countries. He notes the contradiction that the US has often been unwilling to "impose" US labor standards on developing countries but is more than willing to impose harsher standards when this benefits major corporations: "Free-trade agreements that export our own restrictive I.P. laws may make the world safe for Pfizer, Microsoft, and Disney, but they don’t deserve the name free trade."

LAYOFFS. The same author has interesting things to say about the economic effects of layoffs in the April 30th issue. Short version: CEOs often resort to mass layoffs when times are hard but there is some evidence that they can do more harm than good to the long term performance of the corporation that resorts to them.


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