INNER CIRCLE: Empty-Handed Faith

INNER CIRCLE: Empty-Handed Faith February 3, 2023

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SAYING 41: Jesus says: “To him who has in his hand, more will be given. But from him who has not, the little he has will be taken away.”

Here we have another saying which has a parallel in the New Testament Synoptic Gospels, yet many scholars agree that this version in Thomas is unique and “betrays no dependence on the canonical gospels [but] represents an independent tradition.” [Funk and Hoover]

The Q version of this saying is found in Luke’s Gospel [19:26] as part of the parable of the servant who buried the master’s talent, and also in Matthew’s account of the same parable in 25:29. In this context, the saying appears to be about punishing those who are not faithful with the treasures entrusted to them by God and rewarding those faithful servants who invest the wealth and wisdom they have received from God to produce a greater abundance for God’s Kingdom purposes.

It should be noted that even this parable of the talents found in Matthew and Luke might also be one that most of us tend to misunderstand. So, rather than seeing God or Jesus as the Master or King who “harvests where [he] has not sown and gathered where [he] has not scattered seed,” another [better?] way of reading that story might be to see Jesus as the servant who simply handed back that harsh taskmaster’s money and refused to participate in such an exploitative and greedy monetary system of this world’s economy and was, therefore, thrown outside the city gates to experience punishment and torture.

Once you think about it, this feels much closer to what Jesus actually did and what Jesus actually experienced for turning over the tables of the moneychangers in the Temple and suffering torture and execution on a cross outside the city walls.

By placing this saying of Jesus in that context, the original intent of the saying as rendered in the Gospel of Thomas is lost. We can now only see the saying as being about the reward/punishment of those who invest/squander the gifts of God. But, if we pull this saying out of that parable, we may see something brand new.

Before we get into that, it’s worth nothing that in the Gospel of Mark – the earliest of the Synoptics – the saying follows another saying which also muddles the meaning: “With the measure you use, it will be measured to you – and even more.” [Mark 4:24b]

By placing this saying above about receiving from others what you measure out to then, the saying in Thomas about giving more to the one who already has, and taking away from the one who has little, also greatly obscures the potential meaning of both of these sayings.

Again, pulling these sayings out of the Q-type document and dropping them into stories or parables, or placing them in groups with other sayings, as we see in the Synoptics, confuses the reader and creates an artificial context for the saying that wasn’t there to begin with.

So, let’s try to see if we can pull this saying back from those connections in Matthew, Mark and Luke and perhaps we can discover something totally missing from each of those versions.

In Mark’s version the saying is nearly identical except for the addition in Thomas of the phrases “in his hand” and “the little he has.” This may be significant as John Dominic Crossan notes that several sayings in Thomas tend to favor the image of “the hand” as a recurring metaphor which seems to usually correspond to a person’s will or individual agency. [See Sayings 17, 21, 22, 35, and 98].

In this instance, the idea of what you have in your hand appears to refer to something you truly possesses; an insight you hold tightly and have not let go of or lost. To that person – the one who has held on to the truth – it will be exponentially multiplied.

In this context, the saying here is more like the mustard seed metaphor or the small pinch of yeast parable used by Jesus in other places to explain how the Kingdom reality starts small and inevitably expands until it overtakes the garden or permeates the lump of dough in which it is hidden.

So, to the one who has grasped the simple truth about the illusion of separation and the Oneness of all things in Christ, that seed of understanding will take root and grow within to bear more fruit with more seeds to share with others.

But, for the ones who do not hold this understanding and who do not see this truth, the illusion of separation will continue to deceive them into believing that they are disconnected from God and other people.

Do we hold this reality in our hands? Or do we let it slip between our fingers and return to the illusion of our separateness from God and others?


STARTING SOON: My new Gospel of Thomas online course, INSIDE/OUTSIDE, starts Feb. 13th. In this self-paced course you’ll hear 15 pre-recorded lectures about the discovering of Thomas, the dating of the text, how it fits alongside the Synoptic Gospels, connections to the Apostle Paul’s other epistles, the connections between John’s Gospel and Thomas, and much, much, more! PLUS, this course also includes bonus material from Elaine Pagels, Bart Ehrman, David Bakke, and many more about this lost Gospel of Jesus.

The entire course clocks in at 22 lessons. Learn at your own pace. This content never expires, so you can return to these lessons as often as you like.


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