if you want to experience what he meant
saying- 14; attend the sick and eat.
(latest update: 19-11-2018)
When you go into any land and walk about in the districts,
if they receive you,
eat what they will set before you,
and heal (take care of) the sick among them.
For what goes into your mouth will not defile you,
but that what issues from your mouth –
it is that which will defile you.
The second part is a later accretion according to for reasons that it would be most likely
dependent on Matthew’s text (DeConick, 2006), but others consider it an authentic saying and
even the most original (Crossan 1983/2008 for discussion), so I include it here. DeConick's choice
its based on the saying's explanatory character which
came from the time when missionaries went out to preach. However, why for the same reason
should the first part not be considered as a later accretion from the same period? Either both
should be rejected on the same ground, or both accepted. I think, with others, that both parts
are equally acceptable as authentic and reducible to Jesus.
The saying has been considered as part of Jesus’ mission charges, his instructions for itinerant missionaries-disciples to preach the Kingdom just as Jesus did himself. However, it is very
questionable whether Jesus really ever sent disciples on the road to do so. His own mission
lasted just a few years, during which he met much resistance and rejection and a lot of reluctance
to agree with him, and live the way he did. Not only various sayings bare witness of this, but the
Matthian and Lukan woes to especially the Galilean towns for not accepting Jesus’ message illustrate further that especially in the area where Jesus had wandered during his life he had been totally unsuccessful. We have to realize that these woes were likely created during the missionary
activities of those post-Eastern Christians who took it as their duty to develop missionary activity.
Such activity came from communities in cities, such as Jerusalem, and not from the Galilee
countryside. However, they did not proclaim the wisdom of Jesus’ Kingdom preaching, but the
salvation for all mankind as secured by the risen and glorified Christ.
During his mission years Jesus, together with a small group of social outcasts, struggled
to keep himself alive by what people were willing to offer him, which was likely rather
little. This might have been one practical reason why he could not have afforded himself the
luxury of accepting only “clean” food, abiding by the Jewish purity laws, as a wandering
mendicant can hardly be picky in his choice of food if he is to avoid starvation.
A similar rule has been respected by Buddhist mendicant monks for two-and-a-half thousand
years until today, be it that their regulations (when taken strictly) prescribe them to be vegetarians,
which stems from the Buddha's refuting the Vedic purity regulations, promulgated by the
Brahman priest class, who, by the way, did not share the table with the laity.
The saying’s if they receive you indicates an invitation to join the table. It was especially during
shared meals that Jesus delivered his message, whereas the remembrance of this characteristic
might later have found its way into the “last supper” ritual.
Defying the Jewish purity code, apart from a pure pragmatic reason, was without doubt one of the principles of Jesus’ kingdom message. And this saying gets its full significance against the
background of the Hebrew purity code or holiness code, according to which the whole of
Jewish society was structured, and not as a tentative instruction to followers to swarm out into the
world around and establish a social structure convincing people by miracles.
Something about the purity or holiness code.
This code ordered Israel to be holy as God was holy; holy having the meaning of being pure,
which was to understand as separate from everything unclean (Borg, 1994). Borg states that
a purity system is a social system organized around the polarities of pure and impure, clean
and unclean, whereas these polarities apply to persons, places, things, times, and social groups.
The Vedic Hindu caste system was something similar. Poverty was also considered a
state of impurity, because God let the righteous prosper, while, therefore, the poor had
received their fate as a punishment from God for their obvious unrighteous behavior (Borg,1994).
“The Lord has rewarded me according to my righteousness, according to my cleanness in
his sight. To the faithful you show yourself faithful, to the blameless you show yourself
blameless,to the pure you show yourself pure,” 2 Samuel 22:25-28 (NIV). Purity was the
symbol of righteousness, but over time likely developed into something with a purpose on
its own, whereas its distinction between clean and unclean became more and more
decisive in the separation of people: the righteous and the unclean.
Women were less
pure than men; all gentiles (including the Roman occupants) were unclean as were those afflicted
by disease. Borg concluded: the effect of the purity system was to create a world with sharp social boundaries, whereas the politics of purity was to some extent the ideology of the dominant
elites - religious, political, and economical. It is against such system that Borg places the
socio-political significance of compassion, and we know that Jesus' compassion with
the untouchables of Hebrew society was unconditional and obvious. So, we have to admit
that Jesus' stance was not only totally against the operative application of the Torah,
but also against the ones who applied the rules, and ultimately against the One who ordained the
rules. It is likely that he was exactly
received that way by the Jewish establishment. No wonder he was taken as a
blasphemous teacher, and certainly not as a prophet of the tradition. Besides, he did not
speak like those prophets: he never invoked the God of Israel to empower his words.
He seems not to have really affirmed the Hebrew God, but neither did he negate Him directly.
It seems that "the problem of God" was a non-issue for Thomas' Jesus; a kind
of stance similar to the Buddhist "middle way".
So, apart from having the most pragmatic reasons to defy the purity regulations, it was a
fundamental stance in life of Jesus, in that he resisted the inequality of man that the system
created, an inequality which had dramatic consequences for many. Obviously, Jesus fully lived by
what he proclaimed.
“Healing” the sick.
There is something else which relates to the purity issue. And that has to do with the “healing”
of the sick. By the way, this is the only saying in Thomas where Jesus might be indicated to have
acted as a “healer”. However, look at this: from Greek therapeia "curing, healing, service done
to the sick; a waiting on, service," from therapeuein "to cure, treat medically," literally "attend,
do service, take care of"
In my mind, Jesus' was talking about caring for the sick here, out of compassion with one's
fellowmen. It is also possible that he meant “the sick” figuratively; the ones who need to be taken
care of spiritually. And then we have to realize that according to the purity rules the sick were
"unclean" and to be avoided. Jesus, obviously outof compassion, publically refused to accept
such regulations. He did this not by setting up his followers against the Hebrew purity system,
but signaled his position by the way he led his life and the way he associated with the ones
considered impure. So, Jesus let himself not be lured into the duality of polar positions,
but transcended the problem, by taking it to another level of thinking and acting, while at the
same time aiming to transform the way people around him thought about the subject.
Borg (1995) notes that the radicalism of Jesus' teaching may be conceived by the nature of his
compassion. The consequences of Jesus' compassion were obviously of such nature that
he could not but fundamentally loath every aspect of the system that
imposed in his view such heinous and basically inhuman rules and regulation upon people.
Now such stance, we have to admit, is not easy to explain from within the Hebrew tradition,
because the opposite was part and parcel of that tradition. Borg (1994) finds it very unlikely
that Jesus' zeal resulted from studying Hebrew scripture or tradition, or any other obvious
cause, and he suggested that Jesus must have had some kind of enlightening revelation.
However, we cannot rule out that Jesus studied other tradition and scripture, in which
"compassion with all suffering sentient beings" had already been established
as the only right way to live.
“Raising” the dead.
So, there was likely no assignment for followers at all, and even less likely one that told them
to go out and act as miracle workers to miraculously heal the sick. Jesus not only resisted
the unjust purity regulations for the practical reason that otherwise he would probably not have
been able to survive, but he also fully lived up with other consequences to which he fully dedicated himself: he cared for those most people would neglect, the unclean, the sick. The remembrance of this Jesus characteristic likely entered the Christian tradition as stories of miraculous healings; an
association between the Divine Christ and an impure attendant of impure people was an
unfortunate after all. And when any such association was even more undesirable, it would have
either totally been denied in later stories, or aggrandized into something that beats all and
everything; the second alternative I suspect did occur when we consider the stories about
Jesus raising the dead! Therefore, there must have been an association between Jesus’ activity
in relation to the deceased, remembrance of which entered the tradition by such miracle stories as
raising dead people. But what should we think about such Jesus’ activities?
The possibility is not farfetched, but on the contrary, very plausible! Look what Safrai et al. (1976)
write about first-century Jewish life: mourning practices were numerous and complex, some
lasting thirty days, others for an entire year….. The principle practices of mourning terminated
with the first week…Upon the conclusion of the first week of bereavement, the mourners were
considered to be impure….. Various measures in relation to the deceased body had to be taken
such as: closing of the eyes… binding the cheeks, in order to keep the mouth closed, and closing
the orifices of the body to prevent swelling. Placing the corpse on cold sand was another
measure taken to inhibit swelling…. It was customary to assign someone to attend the corpse continuously… Efforts were made to bury the dead as speedily as possible…… burial arrangements included the acquisition of keeners and pipers… In case the burial was on the Sabbath, things
were arranged with the assistance of gentiles…. There was a fixed tradition regulating the
preparation of the corpse for burial, and certainly not everyone new how to care for the corpse
and perform such required functions as bathing it and wrapping it in shrouds… In most towns there existed charitable societies whose purpose was to care for the dead and take care of the
mourners… in addition to the keening women, there was sometimes also a male eulogist who accompanied the coffin….the eulogists were on occasion sages or students of the Thora……
Although male and female family members of the deceased had various functions in the whole of
the mourning and burial ceremonies, considering the existence of the mentioned charitable societies,
on many occasions sufficient family members might just not have been available to fulfill all ritual obligations, and because of the consequences of attending the dead for their purity status, it may
not have been easy to find people willing to assist voluntarily. I suspect that it was exactly at such occasions that the man Jesus lend support; with attending the dead, comforting the deceased’s
family, and assisting in the burial ceremonies, and all this even on the days of Sabbath. I think that
the nature of Jesus’ teachings coincided totally and consequently with the practical consequences
in his behavior and way of living as these resulted from violating the various traditional Jewish
regulations and religious laws. I also suspect that the remembrance of his acts of charity towards
the deceased and their family members entered the Christian tradition later on as stories about
miraculous raising of dead people.
It is rather unlikely then that the man Jesus assigned followers to go out into the world and heal
the sick and raise the dead like he did. Instead, this Thomas’ Jesus saying may rather have
originated as a warning to those who liked to join Jesus group of shabby, itinerant followers
that they should be prepared to attend the sick and assist in mourning and burial practices,
living an “unclean” life and transgressing the Thora for the benefit of the most bereaved.
The original might have been then something like this:
If you want to join me, be prepared to become unclean,
while you care for the sick, bury the dead,
and when invited, eat anything set before you.
For what goes into your mouth will not defile you,
but that what issues from your mouth –
it is that which will defile you.