In 1945 a batch of ancient documents was discovered in Nag Hammadi, Egypt. Contained was a manuscript called “The Gospel of Thomas,” a collection of several books of sayings attributed to Jesus. While this gospel is not widely accepted as authentic, it contains some interesting sayings of Jesus that ring true with what we read in the accepted gospels.
One of these is a two-word admonishment from Jesus that is changing my perspective on life. Two words, and they are making me rethink my whole world view. It is a command from Jesus to “become passersby.” Passers by…a visitor, a tourist, a temporary resident. This powerful phrase calls to mind the many warnings of Jesus to not hold too tightly to earthly treasures, to not cling to the temporary at the expense of the eternal.
“Become passersby.” In two simple words, Jesus lays out a worldview that is diametrically opposed to our modern, selfish, consumer-driven culture. “Become passersby” challenges me to radically evaluate my focus, my treasure, and my heart.
It’s like the person who just found out he has terminal cancer. In a moment he has become a passerby. He has suddenly realized the temporary nature of life, and all his priorities change.
I’m thinking of some broad topics, some foundations upon which we can build this new way of looking at the world.
- Material treasure In the same Gospel of Thomas there is another saying attributed to Jesus. It goes like this, “Life is a bridge. We pass over it, but build no houses on it.” What sense is there in investing so much of our time and attention in acquiring what is only temporary? What sense does it make to build permanent structures in a temporary environment?
- Forgiveness When we see ourselves as a passerby, wrongs done to us don’t have the same sting. Forgiveness is possible when we no longer see this life as permanent. Those hurtful acts and hateful words are only temporary setbacks.
- Compassion Care for the weak takes precedence when we let go of our own self-interest. When my possessions are seen as temporary, it makes sense to use them in a way that brings the maximum benefit. Permanent investment into others becomes more meaningful than temporary investment in myself when I am a passerby.
- Humility When we are a passerby we don’t take ourselves too seriously. Meekness becomes second nature to those who see themselves as part of a bigger picture. When I experience the grace of God, my own status and accomplishment take a back seat to God’s glory.
- Peace The passerby doesn’t worry. The passerby doesn’t cling too tightly to possessions, relationships, status, or any other crutch we have used in the past to find meaning and significance. Loss of those things doesn’t have the same impact when we realize how temporary they really are. Passersby seek to find meaning and purpose in what is eternal.
To be a passerby means looking at my life and the world around me in a different way. It means I can no longer be a passive participant in the culture in which I live, instead finding my wholeness in the kingdom of God. I’m no longer a victim, no longer a co-conspirator, no longer a permanent resident.
Share some thoughts in the comments section on what it would mean to you to become a “passerby.”