Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Leo Tolstoy and the Parables (part 4)

"Where Love is, God is"

The description of the conclusion of this story by Tolstoy is written in memory of my mother, who had similar boundless kindness and generosity as does Martin in the story:

Martin returns to work, and as it grew dark he looks out his window and sees an elderly woman walking by. She carried a heavy sack of woodchips and a small basket of apples, and, as Martin watched, a boy grabbed one of her apples and tried to run away. The woman grabbed him, however, and threatened to take him to the police. Martin rushed out the door, separated the woman and the boy, and calmed them both down. He told the boy to ask the woman for forgiveness and to promise never to take anything that didn’t belong to him ever again. After the boy did so, Martin gave him an apple and told the woman he would pay for it. Then Martin tells the parable of the Unjust Steward to the woman to help convince her to forgive the boy:
“You will spoil them that way, the young rascals,” said the old woman. “He ought to be whipped so that he would remember it for a week.” 
“Oh, Granny, Granny,” said Martin, “that’s our way—but it’s not God’s way. If he should be whipped for stealing an apple, what should be done to us for our sins?” 
The old woman was silent. 
And Martin told her the parable of the lord who forgave his servant a large debt, and how the servant went out and seized his debtor by the throat. The woman listened to it all, and the boy, too, stood by and listened. 
“God bids us to forgive,” said Martin, “or else we shall not be forgiven. Forgive everyone; and a thoughtless youngster most of all.” 
. . . 
“Of course, it was only his childishness, God help him,” said she, referring to the boy.As the old woman was about to hoist her sack on her back, the lad sprang forward to her, saying, “Let me carry it for you, Granny. I’m going that way.” 
The old woman nodded her head, and put the sack on the boy’s back, and they went down the street together, the old woman quite forgetting to ask Martin to pay for the apple. Martin stood and watched them as they went along talking to each other (93-94).
It had grown dark, so when Martin returns to his basement room, he lights his lamp, finishes his work, and gets the Gospels from the shelf. Before he starts to read, though, he hears a noise, turns around, and thinks he sees some people standing in the dark corner:
. . . And a voice whispered in his ear: “Martin, Martin, don’t you know me?” 
“Who is it?” muttered Martin. 
“It is I,” said the voice. And out of the dark corner stepped Stepanitch, who smiled and vanishing like a cloud was seen no more.” 
“It is I,” said the voice again. And out of the darkness stepped the woman with the baby in her arms, and the woman smiled and the baby laughed, and they too vanished. 
“It is I,” said the voice once more. And the old woman and the boy with the apple stepped out and both smiled, and then they too vanished.” 
And Martin’s soul grew glad. He crossed himself, put on his spectacles, and began reading the Gospel where it had opened; and at the top of the page he read:“I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in.” 
And at the bottom of the page he read:“Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me” (Matt. 25:35, 40). 
And Martin understood that his dream had come true; and that the Saviour had really come to him that day, and that he had welcomed him (94).

This story and its use of parables clearly reflect Tolstoy’s view of Christianity: the importance of loving God and loving others. Tolstoy believed that if all everyone behaved the way Martin did, with ethical actions based on Jesus’ teachings, the kingdom of God would be created on earth.

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