In August of last year, I posted a reflection here on the so-called Gospel of Thomas, an ancient text rediscovered in the 20th Century. Whatever attitude one might take to writings, ancient or modern, that imagine words in the mouth of Jesus – or perhaps recall some since forgotten oral memory – this text does give a glimpse of sayings that inspired some in the early Christian era. I have been occasionally praying through all 114 sayings over the past nine months
Some seem frankly quite unhelpful! Others are more or less identical to familiar verses in the canonical gospels. Others again, though, are quite new to those familiar with the canonical sayings of Jesus or bear only a superficial similarity. That was true of Logion 103:
Jesus said, "Fortunate is the man who knows where the brigands will enter, so that he may get up, muster his domain, and arm himself before they invade."
My first reaction was to recall the familiar words of Jesus in Matthew and Mark about the thief in the night (also paralleled in Thomas #21), which he explicitly tells us is about being ready for the coming of the Son of Man. Of course, there is also that saying in all three synoptic gospels about the plunder of a strong man’s property. Reflecting on this saying in Thomas, however, I saw it in a rather different way. Like the Wisdom texts of the Hebrew Scriptures, it spoke to me of a down-to-earth insight about guarding one’s life.
Over this past year, we’ve all been wearing facemasks, keeping social distance, washing our hands, and now getting vaccinated, to guard ourselves against the particular ‘invader’ we know as the Covid-19 virus. We’ve been told where this particular ‘brigand’ might enter our physical bodies, so we have been alert about the mouth, nose, and eyes. But how do we guard the soul: our spiritual, psychological, and emotional being?
The 4th Century Desert Monk, Evagrius of Pontus, has been described as an early psychologist. A particular emphasis of his was that sins are preceded by the thoughts that first arise within us. ‘Obvious!’, we might think, but how often do we seem to be taken by surprise by our own words and actions which at the time seem to come from nowhere and overwhelm us beyond our conscious control? Evagrius taught, in the language and worldview of his day, that we should train ourselves to be alert to this ebb and flow of thoughts:
If there is any monk who wishes to take the measure of some of the more fierce demons so as to gain experience in his monastic art, then let him keep watch over his thoughts. Let him observe their intensity, their periods of decline, and follow them as they rise and fall. Let him note well the complexity of his thoughts, their periodicity, and the demons, which cause them, with the order of their succession and the nature of their associations. Then let him ask from Christ the explanation of these data he has observed.
In my prayerful reflection, my Lectio Divina, on that saying ascribed to Jesus by ‘Thomas’, the practical ‘word’ that addressed me in my own life seemed very similar to the advice of Evagrius. We all regret it when we notice words, actions, and inactions in our lives that are unhelpful for our own and others’ flourishing. We all fall short of the call of Jesus to love God and to love our neighbor as ourselves. Whether I’m remembering an palpable sin, or just some moment I later regret as ‘unhelpful’, even if only to my own well-being, it is possible to observe that there is usually a back-story that began long before the incident itself. What was I doing or thinking before that moment - what are the circumstances I found myself in, or put myself in? What are the patterns in my own life where I discover, if I’m honest, that thoughts or actions that are apparently quite harmless in and of themselves, tend to lead on to choices that I regret, or which seem to assail me as if they were no longer my choice at all? It might be as simple – and potentially consequential – as making a rushed decision under stress, when a break, a space for rest, reflection, and prayer might have been wiser. It might be about pausing rather than hastily responding to an email or text message. It might be a matter of conscious discernment of what draws my attention in idle moments on the internet or other media. Where are the weak points in the Home Security System of my life? How fortunate I am if I can learn to be alert to the places where the brigands enter!
 Translation of the Coptic by Thomas O. Lambdin, used by John W. Marshall in his HTML Five Gospels tool http://sites.utoronto.ca/religion/synopsis/
 See The Desert Father Meets a Psychotherapist https://mounttaborcounseling.com/desert-father-meets-psychotherapist/ Or https://www.researchgate.net/publication/49595389_Psychological-mystical_Aspects_at_St_Evagrius_Ponticus_and_St_Maximus_the_Confessor
 Praktikos 50 (Sources chrétiennes 171.614–16; trans. Bamberger, 29–30).