Jesus said, I took my place in the midst of the world, and I appeared to them in flesh. I found all of them intoxicated; I found none of them thirsty. And my soul became afflicted for the sons of men, because they are blind in their hearts and do not have sight; for empty they came into the world, and empty too they seek to leave the world. But for the moment they are intoxicated. When they shake off their wine, then they will repent. (28)
I took my place in the midst of the world, and I appeared to them in flesh. This sentence is important because it shows that the Gospel of Thomas is not a Gnostic text in the usual sense, because the Gnostics denied that Jesus had a real, physical body, and claimed that his body was only an appearance, a mirage. Here Jesus says: “I appeared to them in flesh.”
It is also important because it tells us that Jesus took on a fully human body which was capable of all the distracting (and addicting) pain and pleasure common to human bodies, that he was right down here in the material world with us. In this way he proved that we need not be “subject to the flesh,” as is often claimed, but can make it subject to our spiritualized consciousness as did he. He, like all yogis, demonstrated that the body is an instrument of enlightenment when used in the way it was intended. Only the yogi has a chance of being normal, or even human, in the true sense. Without yoga there is not only no hope, there is no potential.
I found all of them intoxicated. Here is the plight of humanity. We are inwardly poisoned–the literal meaning of intoxicated–by drinking in the world through our senses and considering it the sole reality and the standard of thought and behavior. “Eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow we die” is the kind of thinking produced, along with the contradictory illusion that we will never die, that death need not occupy a single thought in our mind. We are drunkards, out of our minds and stumbling through life aimlessly. Drunks think they are very clever and happy, whatever mess they are in. Drunkenness is worse than death because it is delusion. And the suffering of the drunk is terrible, however much it is denied or ignored. “All we like sheep have gone astray” (Isaiah 53:6), whatever might be claimed to the contrary. Drunks often accuse others of being drunk while insisting they are not. A lot of people are the same who are drunk on the world and its follies.
I found none of them thirsty. This is the horrible part of it: drunk on the world, no one has a genuine spiritual thirst. However miserable they may be, their thoughts never turn to the higher things that will remove their pain. This is becoming increasingly worse as the years go by. For example, the Titanic was a kind of pleasure palace for the wealthy who drowned themselves in distractions long before being drowned in the ocean. Yet, when the boat was sinking the string quartet that had been entertaining them before began to play “Nearer My God To Thee” until the very end. The doomed people prayed to God and at least in their last moments thought of their immortal souls and eternal verities. Better late then never, truly. But today it is a very different matter. I cannot count the number of near-death experiences I have been told, and not one person thought of God or the world beyond this one. Many say they thought about their families, and one friend of mine who nearly drowned off the coast of California, having gone for a night swim, told me: “They say when you are going down for the last time your whole life flashes before your eyes, but all I did was think: ‘You old fool, what are people going to think about the way you died?’” A priest I know of saw his plane going toward what seemed an unavoidable collision with another plane. “What a hell of a way to go,” was his “last” thought.
Corny as it may seem, Roy Acuff’s famous song Wreck on the Highway says it well:
Who did you say it was, brother?
Who was it fell by the way?
When whiskey and blood ran together,
Did you hear anyone pray?
When I heard the crash on the highway
I knew what it was from the start.
I went to the scene of destruction
And a picture was stamped on my heart.
There was whiskey and blood all together
Mixed with glass where they lay.
Death played her hand in destruction
But I didn’t hear nobody pray.
I wish I could change this sad story
That I am now telling you,
But there is no way I can change it,
For somebody’s life is now through.
Their soul has been called by the Master.
They died in a crash on the way.
And I heard the groans of the dying.
But I didn’t hear nobody pray.
I didn’t hear nobody pray, dear brother,
I didn’t hear nobody pray.
I heard the crash on the highway
But I didn’t hear nobody pray.
If you prefer a more literary form, then here is how Vachel Lindsay said it in his poem “The Leaden-Eyed.”
It is the world’s one crime its babes grow dull,
Its poor are ox-like, limp and leaden-eyed.
Not that they starve; but starve so dreamlessly,
Not that they sow, but that they seldom reap,
Not that they serve, but have no gods to serve,
Not that they die, but that they die like sheep.
God lamented through the prophet-poet David: “They know not, neither will they understand; they walk on in darkness: all the foundations of the earth are out of course. I have said, Ye are gods; and all of you are children of the most High. But ye shall die like men, and fall like one of the princes” (Psalms 82:5-7).
And my soul became afflicted for the sons of men, because they are blind in their hearts and do not have sight. Jesus did not sneer or despise humans when he saw their sad condition. Like Buddha, he was moved with compassion. “When he saw the multitudes, he was moved with compassion on them, because they fainted, and were scattered abroad, as sheep having no shepherd” (Matthew 9:36). He knew their hearts were blind and therefore were without true comprehension of themselves, the world, or their purpose of existence.
For empty they came into the world, and empty too they seek to leave the world. Believing either that emptiness is natural or that the things of the world can fill their emptiness, they remain empty. I well remember looking at my parents when I was three or four years old and knowing that at the end of their lives they would not have done anything, gone anywhere, learned anything, accomplished anything, or really been anything. And so it was. I loved them, but I saw clearly the emptiness, and it make me resolve to not be the same. Decades later I went back and visited my family. I clearly saw that spiritually speaking they were just sitting in their graves waiting to die, and even death would make no difference. The next life would be just another nondescript boxcar in the train of their lives. Eventually, of course, it will change. But not now.
But for the moment they are intoxicated. When they shake off their wine, then they will repent. We are eternal and divine in nature, however hidden that fact may be from ourselves and those around us. Consequently, the intoxication will not last forever. The poisoned wine of materiality will be pushed away and all will change the direction of their present lives and future births, either here or in higher worlds. Patterson and Maeyer do not translate the second half of this sentence: “they will repent,” but rather: “they will change their ways.” As Jesus said: “Because I live, ye shall live also” (John 14:19). When we walk the same path he walked, then “like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:4), resurrected with him into God for ever.
Read the next section in The Gospel of Thomas for Yogis: Hidden Treasure