Infancy Gospel of Thomas 11:1-13:4; 16:1-18:4
Robert J. Miller, ed. The Complete Gospels, Fourth Edition (Salem, OR: Polebridge Press, 2010).
When he was six years old, his mother sent him to draw water and bring it back to the house. But he lost his grip on the pitcher in the jostling of the crowd, and it fell and broke. So Jesus spread out the cloak he was wearing and filled it with water and carried it back to this mother. His mother, once she saw the miracle that had occurred, kissed him; but she kept to herself the mysteries that she had seen him do.
Again, during the sowing season, the child went out with his father to sow their filed with grain. When he had harvested and threshed it, it yielded one hundred measures. Then he summoned all the poor in the village to the threshing floor and gave them grain. Joseph carried back what was left of the grain. Jesus was eight years old when he did this miracle.
Now Jesus’ father was a carpenter, making plows and yokes at that time. He took an order from a rich man to make a bed for him. When one board of what is called the crossbeam turned out shorter than the other, and Joseph didn’t know what to do, the child Jesus said to his father Joseph, “Put the two boards down and line them up at one end.” Joseph did as the child told him. Jesus stood at the other end, grabbed hold of the shorter board, and by stretching it, made it the same length as the other. His father Joseph looked on and marveled, and he hugged and kissed the child, saying, “How lucky I am that God has given me this child.”
Joseph sent his son James to bundle up some wood and carry it back to the house, and the child Jesus followed. While James was gathering the firewood, a viper bit his hand. And as he lay sprawled out on the ground, dying, Jesus came and blew on the bite. Immediately the pain stopped, the animal burst open, and James got better on the spot.
After this incident a baby in Joseph’s neighborhood became sick and died, and his mother grieved terribly. Jesus heard the loud wailing and the uproar that was going on and quickly ran there. When he found the child dead, he touched her chest and said, “I say to you, infant, don’t die; live, and be with your mother.” And immediately the infant looked up and laughed. Jesus then said to the woman, “Take your child, offer her your breast and remember me.” The crowd of onlookers marveled at this: “Truly this child was God or a heavenly messenger of God—whatever he says instantly happens.” But Jesus left and went on playing with the other children.
This first Sunday after Christmas is a good Sunday to reflect on children. We have celebrated the birth of Jesus. The lectionary text is the only story we have about Jesus as a child in the New Testament. He is twelve years old and his parents accidentally leave him behind in the temple in Jerusalem. Three days later they find him, according to Luke:
“sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers.”
The Jungians remind us that in this story we have an example of the child archetype, the symbol for developing personality or potential future. In literature, this child is sometimes seen as one who exhibits adult-like qualities, such as the story of Jesus in the temple amazing the teachers.
The Infancy Gospel of Thomas contains more stories about Jesus as a child. Jesus is a miracle-worker in these stories. He isn’t always a good boy, however. In some of the earlier stories in the Infancy Gospel of Thomas, Jesus behaves badly toward other children, his neighbors, and toward his teachers, when Jesus thinks they cross him in some way. For example, this is from chapter 4:
Later on he was going through the village when a boy ran by and bumped him on the shoulder. Jesus got angry and said to him, “Your trip is over!” And all of a sudden he fell down and died.
Some people saw what had happened and said, “Where has this boy come from? Everything he says happens instantly!”
The parents of the dead boy came to Joseph and blamed him, saying, “Teach your boy to bless and not curse, or else you can’t live with us in the village. He’s killing our children!”
The Infancy Gospel of Thomas is not used much in Christian teaching. I didn’t even know it existed until I was in college and I took a course on the history of the New Testament. I am sure the reason we are not familiar with it is because of distrust of anything outside the canon, but the legends of Jesus as a divine child who matures into his divinity is a story of individuation. Jesus has to grow into the position of being divine. He has to learn to use his divine powers for good, to bless and not curse. He learns how to mature as do we all.
We have at our disposal great powers of creativity. Will we use this creativity for good or for evil? Think of technological humanity. We are in our infancy. For example, we have harnessed nuclear energy. What will we do with it? Will we be mature enough to tame this power or will it result in our destruction?
This is the via creativa, the path of creativity and generativity. The Infancy Gospel of Thomas is the via creativa unleashed in the child Jesus. The story is that Jesus, after some rough starts is able to channel it for good. Can we do the same?
Jesus is not the only spiritual figure who has stories about his childhood. Krishna and Buddha do as well.
I love this one about Krishna. He is a toddler with a mop of curly hair. The older children are going out to pick fruit. They decide that they will collect the fruit and divide it equally. Krishna wants to go with them, but they don’t want him because he is just a baby and will get in the way. He follows them anyway. He is too small to climb the tree, so they give Krishna the job of picking up the fruit that falls to the ground.
When the fruit falls to the ground, Krishna, instead of collecting it, eats it. He shovels it into his mouth. The older boys notice what he is doing and yell at him to stop, but he keeps eating the fruit. He is eating so fast that he is getting dirt in his mouth. They ask him what he is doing but his mouth is so full of fruit that he can’t speak. So they run and tell his mother that Krishna is eating mud!
Krishna’s mother comes out and asks him, “Have you been eating mud?” His mouth is too full to respond and he just shakes his head as if he is ready to cry. The older boys tell her to ask him to open his mouth.
Krishna knows this is a bad idea. His mother forgot about the last time she looked into Krishna’s mouth but she has forgotten and she does ask him to open his mouth. The same thing happened as before. As soon as he opens his mouth she sees the entire universe, the earth, mountains, forests, and the planets and the stars. She gets lost in this and begins despairing, until finally he closes his mouth and she regains her senses. She realizes how foolish she has been:
This child carried the whole universe within Himself and she was worrying about a few grains of sand! "Krishna! 0 Krishna!" she whispered, snatching up her boy in her arms. "Who are You? Who are You? Who are You?" she whispered, nuzzling His baby curls with her lips.
She takes him home, whispering endearments to him. The other boys, meanwhile, cannot understand what happened. They thought he would be in trouble from an irate mother and here she was hugging and kissing him.
That story is a good reminder about perspective. We forget who we are. Each of us contains the universe within ourselves. Don’t worry too much over a little mud.
The Buddha was also a magical child.
The story goes that Queen Maya had a dream. She dreamed that a white elephant with six tusks came down from heaven and touched her on the side. She told her husband, King Suddhodana, what happened, and the next morning they told a wise man about the dream. He said that she would give birth to a child who would become a great leader of humankind. He would be either the greatest king or the greatest saint who ever lived.
The king and queen were excited about this at first. They liked the king part, but not so much the saint part. The child might end up being a wandering holy man and not have interest in ruling a kingdom.
When the time came for her to give birth, the queen was journeying to visit her parents in a neighboring kingdom and she entered a garden along the side of the road. She held on to a limb of a tree and gave birth to a magnificent boy. He wasn’t born in the usual way. He stepped out of her side and took seven steps in all four directions to claim dominion over the universe. The trees and shrubs of the garden all burst into bloom and a rainbow appeared across the sky.
The King and Queen decided to name their child Siddhartha, which means "the one who brings much good."
One day, when Siddartha was a young boy, he was walking outside and a swan fell at his feet. The swan had been struck by an arrow. Siddartha removed the arrow and treated the swan with medicine. His cousin ran up to him and said he had shot the swan and that the swan belonged to him.
"No the swan is only wounded, and it can be nursed back to health."
The two boys argued and finally went before the King and Queen with their problem. The King and Queen were uncertain about what to do and asked the advice of the oldest person in the court. That person was respected by all and said,
"Everyone values one's life more than anything else. Let the swan be given to the person who tried to save its life, not to the person who tried to take its life."
The story of the Buddha reminds us to be life-giving as opposed to life-taking.
These stories of Buddha, Krishna, and Jesus as children are told to show what kind of spiritual leaders these figures will be and what kinds of things they will teach and do as adults. Even more than that, because these stories are about children, they show potential and provide possibility. Even us old folks can capture some of that wonder and awe and that sense of potential, that maybe there is possibility for growth yet within us. Perhaps we might be humble enough to learn lessons even yet.
I also included in today’s bulletin the reading from Walt Whitman, “There Was A Child Went Forth,” from Leaves of Grass. I don’t have a literary analysis of this or anything, but I chose it because it reminded me again of potential and possibility. Whitman’s descriptive poetry that goes on and on provides the effect that the universe is within oneself. Everything the child sees becomes him or her. As he writes:
“These became part of that child who went forth every day, and who now goes, and will always go forth every day.”
These things include,
“the apple trees cover’d with blossoms, and the fruit afterward, and wood-berries, and the commonest weeds by the road.”
These things also include,
“the blow, the quick loud word, the tight bargain, the crafty lure.”
All of these things become part of the child.
In addition to reflecting on the divine child archetype that might inspire us to embrace that child within us and our potential for growth, I thought it would also be important to reflect as adults on our responsibility to our children, not only our biological or adopted children, certainly them, but all children. It is not that we can shelter them from everything or turn the world into a paradise. It isn’t that we can possibly be responsible for everything they do, especially as they mature and make their own choices. Yet, I have to think there must be some intention on our part toward our children to do what we can to make our families, our churches, our neighborhoods, and our society, as much as we can influence these things, consider the well-being of children first.
If we read that poem from Walt Whitman as an invitation to see that everything becomes the child, might we be more intentional about helping our children develop both openness and resilience to what their eyes fix upon in this world? Perhaps that poem could make us aware of the effects that our words, deeds, priorities, laws, and budgets, have on the lives of children. If they are like sponges, becoming the objects they look upon, I want at least to be conscious and know that I am one of those objects.
The world that I inhabit, influence, and shape with my adult decisions will be the world that children born today and tomorrow with look upon. I don’t have necessarily specific proposals or ideas in mind, it is more of an intention to ask when I am making whatever decision I am making for my own life or for the life of whatever community I am a part, to ask how will it affect the child who goes forth and looks upon what I have left?
Maybe we wouldn’t make different choices regarding guns and violence, healthcare, energy, this so-called fiscal cliff, or even church budgets, if our first priority was the well-being of children, but then again, maybe we would. I know that it has become a cliché when we hear the cry of “think of the children!” Yet I sure would hate not to think of them.
Perhaps we haven’t evolved to the extent that we can think of children beyond our own biological children and beyond a couple of generations at most. Maybe we haven’t reached the spiritual maturity yet of the Great Law of the Iroquois, which says, with beautiful force:
In all of your deliberations in the Confederate Council, in your efforts at law making, in all your official acts, self-interest shall be cast into oblivion. Cast not over your shoulder behind you the warnings of the nephews and nieces should they chide you for any error or wrong you may do, but return to the way of the Great Law which is just and right. Look and listen for the welfare of the whole people and have always in view not only the present but also the coming generations, even those whose faces are yet beneath the surface of the ground – the unborn of the future Nation.
Maybe we are still at the level of the child Jesus, who instantly kills a boy for bumping into his shoulder. We haven’t yet grasped that our creativity and power come with a great responsibility. But then maybe we do have what it takes to channel our creativity toward good.
Perhaps we just need a reminder. Maybe we need to remind ourselves and one another of our weighty and joyous responsibility. Now as we approach the eve of a new year, a time to take stock of the past and to look forward, that as we make our resolutions, as we make our intentions, may we make them with the well-being, health, peace, and joy of children, all children, including those of seven generations to the future, first.