Wisdom literature is supposed to make you slow down and ponder. During this season of New Year’s resolutions and self-reflection, I found a little piece of ‘wisdom’ from the Gospel of Thomas that made me wonder if it might strengthen some of these resolutions. Several surveys tell us that 60% to 80% fail by the end of February. Undoubtedly there is a wide range of reasons for unkept resolutions, from setting overly ambitious goals to a lack of relevance to daily life. But good resolutions also fail, and this Saying from the Gospel of Thomas might help us re-think our approach to our New Year’s resolutions.
Of course, we need to remember that wisdom literature always needs interpretation, and there are multiple ways to understand these ancient sayings. But I offer one way to think about Saying #108 from the Gospel of Thomas because it is inspiring me to claim more authority and eagerness in my resolutions for this year.
Inspiration from the Gospel of Thomas Saying #108
Jesus said, “Whoever drinks from my mouth will become like me, and I myself will become like them; then, what’s hidden will be revealed to them.”
To clear up the odd words, “drinking from my mouth,” it might work to just think of that as “assimilating his words.” Proverbs conveys a similar idea: “Hear, for I will speak noble things, and from my lips will come what is right; for my mouth will utter truth…” (8:6,7).
The phrase from the Gospel of Thomas, “become like me,” is what caught my attention while I was thinking about my New Year’s resolution. I know I am not alone having made resolutions that don’t quite succeed. But if I were to become like Jesus, what would that look like? My guess is that it might resolve a couple of the typical resolution setbacks. For one, I might select more practical and even more valuable resolutions.
Second, I envision Jesus as having whatever it takes to make a New Year’s resolution stick. Whether that’s patience, willingness, fortitude, unselfishness, grace, or some other virtue, I think all the resolutions worth striving for require inner strength. Something will have to change. This little saying about assimilating Jesus’s words appears to offer exactly what’s needed.
Encouragement becoming like Jesus and Jesus like us
It’s a bit startling to imagine becoming like Jesus, though, when we think of him as having the power and intelligence of God! Or, more specifically, if we think of Jesus as God, wouldn’t this be blasphemous for us to consider becoming like God?
But the next part of the Saying (“…and I myself will become like them”) seems to resolve the problem of Jesus being too great, and it does so in a surprising way. Jesus appears to like the idea of becoming like anyone who assimilates his words. Evidently, he trusts that his teaching enables receptive hearers to glorify the same divine source, and then they perceive their own likeness to Jesus.
As we grasp what he is teaching, we learn that anyone, including Jesus, has access to the same God-given inner strength, or grace. He refuses to be superior to others because he also draws from the same source, his Father-God, for the power to do good. Therefore, whoever hears the meaning of his teaching recognizes that their likeness to Jesus stems from their own God-given ability to do good.
The final phrase would confirm that interpretation: “…what is hidden will be revealed to [us].” Most of us recognize we can’t make ourselves comply with our resolutions by mere will-power or by wishful thinking. Rather, we need this kind of divinely-sourced strength that is hidden to us until we assimilate what Jesus is teaching.
The resolution battle inside shifts from “I can’t maintain this kind of discipline, grace, or whatever” to “It’s hard to admit I have the discipline, grace, or whatever, from the divine source.” This interpretation has its own challenges for resolution-makers because our very admission allows for fewer excuses to ourselves.
More encouragement from the Gospel of John
But if this Gospel of Thomas Saying #108 does result in our assimilating Jesus’s divine message in a practical way, it seems to also resonate with the way Jesus is portrayed in the Gospel of John. In his prayer to God, whom he calls ‘Father,’ Jesus talks about his relationship to his followers:
Just as you [Father] sent me into the world, I am sending them into the world. (John 17:18)
If we linger over this pithy statement, Jesus appears to be speaking about the same structural relationships that we see in Thomas’s Saying. That is, God sent Jesus forth in the world with all that he needs to fulfill his mission. Then he likens his followers (regular people) to himself by sending them into the world in the same way. How else would his followers have access to this God-given strength if they didn’t get it from his teachings, i.e. ‘his mouth’?
This Thomas Saying seems to leave us with a message of encouragement. By listening to and appreciating what Jesus is teaching, we have all we need to follow through with good New Year’s resolutions. No more excuses that we can’t do it! Whatever was hidden from us before will be exposed, and we will have all we need to do something good, whatever the resolution might be.
Good social glue
Dr. Arthur Dewey, a Gospel of Thomas scholar, takes the idea of the teachings from Jesus’s mouth one step further. He claims that learning the meaning of Jesus’s teachings becomes the “social glue or process whereby the community is formed. … Wisdom is passed from mouth to mouth” (quoted from an unpublished paper). That’s the icing on the cake for me!
Each time wisdom passes from someone else’s mouth, those who assimilate it become united with others who have done so likewise. I am not an isolated example of one successful resolution. Usually, my New Year’s Resolutions pertain to my becoming a better person in some way. But this idea of becoming like Jesus and Jesus like me, resulting in the social glue, gives me incentive and encouragement that the hard work is worth it.
Letting this divine wisdom pass through us via transformation will undoubtedly end up making 2023 a great year to remember!