Many sayings in ‘Thomas' begin with “The disciples said to him…” as they struggled to understand the message that Jesus was teaching. Logion #6 reflects the in-between stage that his followers were experiencing:
Do you wish that we should fast?
And in which way should we pray?
Should we give alms?
And what diet should we observe? [#6 2-5]
Today Jesus might be asked “how should we observe Lent?”
Lent, our traditional ritual of sacrifice for the 40 days before Easter. The number of days is a literal acceptance from the Bible but which usually meant ‘a long time'; 40 days and 40 nights appears many times as the standard Biblical time-span. Our usual sacrifice of giving up favourite foods is an extension of ‘tightening our belts' with onset of the hungry-gap when our food stores were replete and Spring crops had yet to yield.
So we have a ritual that was probably introduced by the early Church to add meaning to a difficult time for land-based communities.
In our own times, our most common response seems to be giving up chocolate, which for some peculiar reason is allowed to be enjoyed on Sundays; so no hardship there! Then there is the social censure when asked “what have you given up for Lent?” you mumble “well actually, nothing”. All this seems to point to the expression and dominance of our ahamkara.
Jesus' response to his disciples in logion #6 was: “Do not lie, and do not do what you dislike”; not an answer they were expecting! Later, however, Thomas remembered a more complete response.
In logion #14 Jesus responds to each item: in fasting you will sin, in praying you will be condemned, in giving alms you will do harm to your spirits. A bit harsh you may think to those that had fasting, praying, and giving alms as expressions of their faith. Furthermore it is compounded by the statement “eat what they set before you”, that must have shaken their Hebrew/Jewish laws on clean and unclean food.
Jesus was trying to show them that these things ‘feed the Lion'. That they often encourage pride, selfishness, envy, turmoil in yourself and in others; ahamkara is strengthened.
Then Jesus responds with one of his most powerful messages:
What comes out of your mouth
that is what will defile you. [#14 15-16]
What should we give up for Lent?
It's clear that Jesus would reply: avoid deceptions, falsehoods, lies; maintain the Truth both in yourself and encourage it in others. A bit more meaningful than merely restricting chocolate.