Monday, January 1, 2024

Saying 21


Mary said to Jesus, ‘Who are your disciples like?’

He said, ‘They are like children sojourning in a field that is not theirs. When the owners of the field come, they will say, “Let us have our field.” They renounce it in front of them, in order to abandon it, returning their field to them.’

‘For this reason I say: If the owner of a house knows that a thief is coming, he will keep watch until he arrives, and he will not allow him to break into the house of his estate to steal his possessions.’

‘You, then, keep watch against the world. Prepare yourself with great strength, in case the robbers find a way to come to you, because the possessions you are looking after, they will find. Let there be a wise person among you.’

‘When the grain ripened, he came quickly with his sickle in hand and harvested it. Whoever has ears to hear, let him hear.’


Saying 21 comprises multiple parts. In the earliest version of the book, the thief and the ripe grain were two separate parables, placed in immediate sequence because they communicated the same idea, that God’s kingdom is imminent. The first parable does not make a moral judgment one way or the other regarding the thief. His sudden arrival is simply used as an analogy for how the inauguration of the kingdom will seem to be an unpredictable surprise for anyone who is not ready and prepared. At a later stage, the parable reinterpreted so the thief specifically represented the immoral ‘world’ of ‘robbers’. Instead of being ready for the apocalyptic arrival of God’s kingdom, the parable became a lesson on spiritual attacks. Later still, the two parables were reframed within a dialogue between Mary and Jesus, which was placed here because the ‘field’ could function as the location of the ‘grain’.

The Syriac ܫܠܚ (šelaḥ) can mean both ‘renounce’ and ‘strip naked’. If understood as ‘renounce’, the ‘field’ would have represented the world, with the message that God’s followers (the children) will renounce their possession of the sinful world (the field). If the verb is instead meant to be ‘strip naked’—which is how Saying 37 seems to understand it—the act of undressing could refer to anticipation of leaving the current earthly body for the heavenly one (cf. 1 Cor 15.35–55; 2 Cor 5.1–4), or it could allude again to the condition of the primordial first man, who was naked before his sin in the garden of Eden. While most of the dialogues between Jesus and his disciples belong to the later stages of the book, dialogues which identify disciples by name were the last ones to be added.



Put in the sickle, for the harvest is ripe.


16.1 Do not let your lamps go out, and do not keep your loins ungirded, but be ready, for you do not know the hour when our Lord is coming.

1 Thessalonians

5.2 For you yourselves know very well that the Day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night.


3.17–20 Brothers and sisters, join in imitating me, and observe those who live according to the example you have in us. For many live as enemies of the cross of the Anointed One. I have often told you of them, and now I tell you even with tears. Their end is destruction, their god is the belly, and their glory is in their shame. Their minds are set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven, and it is from there that we are expecting a savior, the Lord Jesus, the Anointed One. He will transform the body of our humiliation that it may be conformed to the body of his glory, by the power that also enables him to make all things subject to himself.


4.26–29 He also said, ‘The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how. The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come.’


24.43–44 ‘But understand this: if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore you also must be ready, for the son of man is coming at an unexpected hour.’


12.39–40 ‘But know this: if the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. You also must be ready, for the son of man is coming at an unexpected hour.’

Revelation of John

3.3 ‘Remember then what you received and heard. Obey it, and repent. If you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come to you.’

14.15 Another angel came out of the temple, calling with a loud voice to the one who sat on the cloud, ‘Use your sickle and reap, for the hour to reap has come, because the harvest of the earth is fully ripe.’

16.15 ‘See, I am coming like a thief! Favored is the one who stays awake and is clothed, not going about naked and exposed to shame.’

2 Peter

3.1 But the Day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a loud noise, and the elements will be dissolved with fire, and the earth and everything that is done on it will be disclosed.

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