Jesus and the lost messages

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Jesus via Wikimedia Commons

What if there was more to the story of Jesus and God than is found in the Bible? What if the Bible only told part of the story – and if you dug a little deeper, you might find a rich treasure trove of knowledge that could both better inform and enlighten you?

In a recent conversation with Christian theologian Matthew Fox, he made a simple but profound statement:God didn’t stop talking to us after the Bible was written.” Think about it for a moment. Did God impart the knowledge contained in the Bible, then suddenly stop speaking? Or, as Fox believes, has God continued to speak to us throughout history, through mystics like Julian of Norwich, continuing to speak to us today?

This is an idea that is reinforced by Elaine Pagels in her book Why Religion? A personal story. The religious scholar finds that “Christianity’s traditional exclusion of anything outside its borders is too restrictive.” It has not always been so. In early Christianity, monks played a vital role in collecting a variety of spiritual texts from monastic libraries, including the early Christian books known as the Gnostic Gospels.

This is further highlighted in a recent study by Hugo Lundhaug, theologian at the University of Oslo. He reports that “far greater diversity of thought existed among people who considered themselves Christians than we previously realized.” Some of the Gnostic texts were reproduced and read by Christian monks in the fourth and fifth centuries. But Lundhaug tells us that “in time, as Christian thought developed, the reading of such unusual texts would have become less acceptable until finally the order came to reject them altogether.”

What mattered most to the early Christians was to deepen their spirituality.

Pagels, who is a professor of religion at Princeton, is the author of the seminal book on early Christian texts, The Gnostic Gospels. She points out that early Christians were much more open-minded than later ones because they weren’t totally beholden to the Bible. In his words:

What mattered to these monks was not dogma. They did not judge the value of sacred writings by whether or not they conformed to Christian doctrine. They were open to exploring other traditions in addition to their own…seemingly less concerned with what to believe than with deepening their spiritual practice.

That’s what we’re going to do here today, “deepen our spiritual practice”. Let’s look at three specific examples from the Gnostic texts cited by Pagels. The first two provide further insight into the true message of Jesus, even though they contradict what is in the Bible. The third message is more general in nature, but we could all take it to heart.

Post #1. The Kingdom of God is a Place on Earth.

Pagels points out that in the Gospel of Mark, Jesus announces that “the kingdom of God is coming soon”. But what does Jesus mean by that? Some believe this means that a catastrophic world-ending event will ensue and the earth will be replaced by something closer to heaven. But the Gnostic Gospel of Thomas suggests that Jesus was simply speaking metaphorically:

Jesus said: If those who are leading you say to you: “The kingdom is in heaven”, then the birds will arrive there first. If they say, “It’s in the sea,” then the fish will get there first. On the contrary, the kingdom of God is within you and outside of you. When you know yourselves then… you will know that you are the children of God.

The central message: The kingdom of God is not a place in heaven, it is actually a state of being! When we enter this state, we “learn who we are and come to know God as the source of our being.” With this awareness, we can experience the essence of God within us in the present moment, even today.

Post #2. The light of God is within us.

Pagels tells us that one of the main themes of the Jewish mystical tradition is that the “image of God”, a divine light, is hidden deep within each of us. Our goal is to find that light which also serves to connect us to each other. As the Gospel of Thomas said:

In a person of light there is a light. If it is illuminated, it illuminates the whole world; otherwise, everything is dark.

Another passage in the Gospel of Thomas suggests that in seeking this light, we can find what we are looking for where we are. Jesus said, “Know what is before your eyes and the mysteries will be revealed to you. It is the equivalent of having “a secret door within us” which, if we open it, will reveal all that is known and all that we need to know.

This idea is developed in another Gnostic text entitled Zostrianos’ revelation where the author writes: “If you seek with all that you have, you will know the good that is in you; and you will recognize yourself as someone who comes from the God who really exists.

Post #3. We are connected to all beings.

The gospel of truth develops the idea that “when we come to ourselves, we simultaneously come to know God”. Pagels informs us that it is “not an intellectual knowledge, but a knowledge of the heart”. We are intimately linked to the Divine, because “in him we live, we move and have our being”.

This book also talks about how we are connected “with each other and with all beings” because in each of us “dwells the unfading light”. Because of this connection, we should:

  1. Tell the truth to those who seek it.

  2. Support those who have stumbled.

  3. Reach out to those who are sick.

  4. Feed the hungry.

  5. Give rest to those who are weary.

  6. Strengthen those who want to rise.

  7. Wake those who sleep.


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