Friday, January 8, 2016

Leo Tolstoy and the Parables (part 2)

"Where Love is, God is"

As I mentioned in my last post, Tolstoy’s sentimental 1885 short story, “Where Love is, God is,” gets to the heart of Jesus’ teachings, most notably using the parable of the Sheep and Goats as its central motif.

What follows is a summary with some analysis of the story, so don't keep reading if you prefer to read the story itself first to find out what happens. 

The story begins by describing the main character, a cobbler named Martin Avdeitch, who lived in a village in Russia. Martin’s wife died when their son was three years old, and their son died a few years later, so Martin was filled with overwhelming grief. He expressed his pain, loss of hope, and desire to die with an older holy man, and:
The old man replied, “You have no right to say such things, Martin. We cannot judge God’s ways. Not our reasoning, but God’s will, decides. If God willed that your son should die and you should live, it must be best so. As to your despair—that comes because you wish to live for your own happiness.”
What else should one live for?” asked Martin.
“For God, Martin,” said the old man. “He gives you life, and you must live for Him. When you have learnt to live for Him, you will grieve no more, and all will seem easy for you.”Martin was silent for awhile, and then asked, “But how is one to live for God?”The old man answered: “How one may live for God has been shown to us by Christ. Can you read? Then buy the Gospels, and read them: there you will see how God would have you live” (CCEL 86-87)
Martin began to read the Bible occasionally, but as time went by, he read it every night after dinner.

Although the story primarily interprets the Sheep and Goats parable, Tolstoy incorporates a few other parables as well. The narrator relates how Martin sat up late one night reading Luke’s Gospel, including the House built on the Rock parable. Martin wonders whether he had built his own “house” on the rock, and he recommits himself to trying to follow God’s commands in every aspect of his life. He goes on to read about the sinful woman and Simon the Pharisee in Luke 7:36-50, including the Two Debtors parable, and reflects on it:
He must have been like me, that Pharisee. He too thought only of himself—how to get a cup of tea, how to keep warm and comfortable; never a thought of his guest. He took care of himself, but for his guest he thought nothing at all. Yet who was the guest? The Lord himself! If he came to me, should I behave like that (88)?

After reading that story, Martin falls asleep, but then thinks he hears a voice speaking to him: “Look out into the street tomorrow, for I shall come.”

The next day, three events occur that shape Martin's understanding of himself, other human beings, and this parable.

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