Strike the shepard, that the sheep may be scattered.
Zechariah 13:7; compare John 16:32; Mark 14:27; Matthew 26:31; and the Fayyum Fragment
With the exception of James, Peter and John who stayed together for some time in Jerusalem after Jesus was no longer with them, all the legends about the apostles attest to their separate destinies; a missionary “scattering”. The scattering of the apostles seems to have been a fate they all accepted. I am sure the apostles quarreled some after Judas’ Iscariot’s betrayal, like people who realign their affections and take sides after a bitter divorce within a group of friends. But I also believe Jesus did quote Zechariah, especially if you take seriously, as I do, that Jesus chose to ride into Jerusalem on a donkey to personally fulfill his understanding of Zechariah 9:9. Perhaps there is some truth to the legends of the apostles scattering and becoming independent missionaries. Perhaps they were just taking to heart their Lord’s quoting of Zechariah before his arrest.
Undoubtedly, one of the legends having the most historical truth to back it up is that Thomas was the first to scatter. It is said he was entrusted very early on with the mission to the East. First, he went north-east into Syria. Then he proceeded to Iraq. Next, he sailed out of the Persian Gulf arriving in India in 52 A.D. Along the way, he founded places of Buddhist-like study in Jesus’ name. In India, his teaching was tolerated by the Buddhists and Hindus indicating his gospel shared important features with their own religious traditions. For the next 1,500 years, Thomasite Christians maintained a link to Thomas’ alleged missionary path. They traced their apostolic line through Thomas, rather than Peter. When the Portuguese Catholics arrived in the 1530’s, they spent the next 70 years trying to stamp out the Thomasite anomaly with violence.
They did not succeed. You can still go to the Eastern churches that claim Thomas brought them a Buddha-like gospel of enlightenment, only their Buddha is Jesus. The legends about Thomas have roots as deep, or deeper, than Peter, James and John.
Since the finding of the Nag Hammadi Gospel of Thomas in 1945, we can speculate easily why writings attributed to Thomas were excluded from the New Testament canonization process. Thomas’ gospel is only concerned with understanding and knowledge imparted by Jesus. The gospel does not advocate worship of Jesus. Rather, you seek Jesus’ knowledge of life and death. This slight shift in perspective is like what a follower of Buddha does, in order to become equal to the master. Service, trust, compassion and knowing the master’s truth is the essence of having faith. This perspective is accurate, I believe, to the historical Jesus’ own teaching on life and death.
Belief in a prophesied Messiah (Mark, Matthew and Luke), or God come to visit us in the flesh (John/the Fourth Gospel) has no place in Thomas. Rather, in Thomas you can learn to become Jesus’ spiritual equal — an enlightened one like him! No wonder Thomas got excluded! By this slight shift in perspective, there is no need for priests, bishops, deacons, cardinals, popes, etc., and hence no need to employ religion as an instrument for controlling the masses by trying to unite them about what they are allowed to think and believe.
As Progressive Christians, we owe it to ourselves to read and reflect on the Gospel of Thomas found at Nag Hammadi in 1945. It is likely the gospel contains the earliest record of things the Pre-Easter Jesus said! Perhaps things in Thomas have been embellished, added, or subtracted, as is the case with the other more well known gospels we have. These sayings reveal to us a sage, a wisdom teacher, with a Buddha-like sense of self- enlightenment. Many of the sayings have parallels in the New Testament. Parallels that indicate that whoever wrote Mark, Matthew, Luke and John used the same, or similar sayings of the gospel of Thomas, to selectively create their own narratives and stories about Jesus!
These sayings were destroyed by the Romans about 370 A.D. and quite possibly destroyed in the East for the first time by the Portuguese, when the far Eastern churches were first visited by Europeans. The evidence that the apostle Thomas himself is responsible for writing at least some of these sayings is solid, giving us a direct link to Jesus!
Here are a few samples of the sayings that I hope entice you to read and reflect further:
Let him who seeks continue seeking until he finds. When he finds, he will be troubled. When he becomes troubled, he will be astonished and will rule over the All.
The kingdom is inside you and outside you. When you come to know yourselves, then you will become known, and you will realize that it is you who are sons of the living Father. But if you will not know yourselves, you will dwell in poverty and it is you who are that poverty.
There is nothing hidden which will not become manifest.
Do not tell lies, and do not do what you hate, for all things are plain in the sight of heaven.
Wherever you are, you are to go to James the righteous, for whose sake heaven and earth came into being.
What goes into your mouth will not defile you, but that which issues from your mouth — it is that which can defile you.
There is light within a man of light, and he lights up the world. If he does not shine, he is darkness.
Love your brother like your soul. Guard him like the pupil of your eye. You see the mote in your brother’s eye, but you do not see the beam in your own eye. When you cast the beam out of your own eye, you will see clearly to cast the mote from your brother’s eye.
No physician heals those who know him.
No one lights a lamp and puts it under a bushel, nor does he put it in a hidden place, but rather he sets it on a lampstand so that everyone who enters and leaves will see its light.
Be as wise as serpents and as innocent as doves.
New wine is not put into old wineskins.
What you look forward to has already come, but you do not recognize it.
Blessed is the man who has suffered and found life.
The harvest is great, but the laborers are few.
Lift up the stone and you will find me there. Split a piece of wood and I am there.
Foxes have their holes and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.
Come unto me, for my yoke is easy and my lordship is mild, and you will find rest for yourselves.
Do not throw pearls to swine, lest they grind them to bits.
Give Caesar what belongs to Caesar, give God what belongs to God, and give me what is mine.
The Kingdom of the Father is spread out upon the Earth, and men do not see it.