Just for fun before we walk – here is a picture of my friend Christopher prepared for the season of Lent. His shamrock is gone, and now he carries a cross.
Matthew 5: 38-48
38“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ ◙ 39But I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. 40If anyone wants to sue you and take away your tunic, let him have your cloak also. 41And whoever compels you to go one mile, go with him two. 42Give to him who asks you, and from him who wants to borrow from you do not turn away.
43“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor ◙ and hate your enemy.’ 44◙ But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, 45that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. 46For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47And if you greet your ◙ brethren only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the ◙ tax collectors do so? 48Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.
How much I have been looking forward to our walk together. I am excited for I have a storyteller from the past with me. His name is Leo Tolstoy. Have you ever read any of his books, any of his stories?
Years ago, I asked my English teacher Mr. Williams about reading the novel War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy. He told me it was too advanced for me to read at that time. Now I was a senior and about to attend college so I was not so thrilled with his comment about my comprehension skills. But for me, it was a challenge, so when I was attending college, I read Leo Tolstoy’s greatest novel, War And Peace. I believe it was one of the best books I ever read. It caused me to wish to read much more of this author so I next read Anna Karenina.
One day when I was visiting with my mom, I had that book with me, and she asked what I was reading. When I told her the name of the book, she asked if she could borrow it, and as I had finished reading it, I gave it to her. When she took the book in her hands, I was felt somewhat like Mr. Williams must have felt when I first inquired about the book War and Peace. My mom had only graduated from the eighth grade and how could I help but wonder if she could understand that novel she had just taken in her hands. It was humbling for me for my mother not only read and comprehended Anna Karenina, she found it a wonderful book to read.
When I read something by Leo Tolstoy, I always have a compassionate attitude toward the Russian people. Their lives over the centuries have been lives of servitude and poverty. They have been mistreated over the centuries right up into modern times. And in modern times, they had to survive Communist leaders such as Josepf Stalin and ruthless dictators. Leo Tolstoy, an aristocrat himself, saw the plight of the Russian peasants, and he had great compassion for them. His life was a struggle against his wealth and position and his love for the people of Russia. Yesterday, I had some free time so I picked up and read a story by the author Tolstoy entitled The Candle.
Come on, we need to begin our walk. It is not too cold today, cloudy but not raining. We’ll walk past that grove of pine trees that whispers as we pass, and we’ll walk up that hill to the pasture with several horses are grazing.
In the story The Candle, we learn of a cruel, violent taskmaster who treated the peasants or serfs as beasts of burden. As a matter of truth, he treated the work animals kinder than he treated the serfs he ruled. Once he had been a serf himself, but he had risen to a higher state as an overseer of a great farm. Michael should have been grateful for his new incredible princely life, but he was more difficult than any other master. Under his hand, the serfs were obliged to work in his own brickyard for his profit.
Those who suffered at the hand of Michael Simeonovitch would complain to the lord of the estate, but he would not listen to their complaints or take any action against their tormentor. The peasants plotted against the hated overseer and made plans to revenge themselves upon him; yet when the time came for them to stand together, they became frightened and took no action. They held secret meetings and devised many plans, but all came to naught.
The leader Vasili, of the discontented serfs, spoke over and over again about how they needed to rise up and kill Michael Simeonovitch. They were all aware that Michael was deserving of a cruel fate; after all he had caused the death of one man tortured in irons. He had even flogged men to death; yet they did not have the courage to band together and take Michael’ s life.
Amid all this hatred for Michael, there was one voice that spoke as he believed Jesus would have spoken. That man’s name was Peter – Peter Mikhayheff. As he heard the words of hatred and the plot to kill Michael, he spoke to them about the terrible sin of murder and killing. One could kill the body, but what was to fear was the death of one’s soul. He told the people that God would punish their cruel tormentor and that they should be patient. As he spoke, the others would say it was wrong to kill a good man, but this man was an evil man, and he deserved to die.
It neared Easter, that most holy day for the peasants, and it was supposed to be a time of holiness and rest – a time to worship God. That was not to be so. Michael, the tyrant, had informed the serfs they would have to work full days during Easter and the following holy days. The cry went up against the “evil, dog,” but not from Peter. When asked if he would work on that holy day, his reply was that he was not working of his own free will. God, he knew, understood that he was forced to work; therefore, the sin of working was not on his soul but upon the soul of Michael. God, he told the others, tells us “not to return evil with evil.” If we are evil in our actions and take the blood of this man, we will kill our own souls. There were now two groups – those who believed they should kill the overseer and those who believed that God would punish him for his sins.
Ordered to go out and plough the field for the sowing of oats on Easter Monday as others were going to church, the serfs went to work in the fields.
Michael called his elder servant and asked him if all were working on the estate. The reply was to Michael that they were all out plowing. Asked to check again on their labors, the elder was to go and find out what the peasants were saying about him and to come back and tell him the truth. He knew they hated his very being. His wife who had compassion for the workers spoke to her husband of his cruel orders, and he threatened her with a beating.
When Michael’s elder returned, he informed Michael that the plowing was done well and that the soil was soft and excellent. Then Michael asked him to tell him about the hateful things they might have said against him. His messenger told him that indeed the serfs hated him, cursed him, said he did not believe in God, and that the evil one had overcome him. Some wished his back to be broken, and Michael laughed as he said that he would be the one to break their backs. As he spoke these harsh words, he rather enjoyed them. He asked a last question, “ Was that fool Peter cursing me too?”
His face grew ashen as he learned that Peter was plowing with a candle burning on the cross bars of his plough. The wind could not blow it out. Peter was singing hymns as he ploughed. No matter how he worked or how the plough shook, the candle was not snuffed out but burned all the brighter. Some of his fellow peasants told Peter he was sinning to be working on Easter, but Peter refused to be goaded into anything but peace and replied, “There should be peace on earth and good-will toward men.” As Peter sang the hymns, the candle burned brighter and brighter.
Michael Simeonovitch ordered the elder to leave, and he went behind a screen, fell upon his bed and began to sigh and moan. His wife heard him speak the words, “He has conquered me, and my end is near. I am lost.”
Riding out to see the peasants, Michael reached the gate, and it was not opened for him for the serfs had fled to hide from any of his intended brutality. After he opened the gate and was remounting his horse, the horse became frightened. Michael was tossed upon the fence, and a picket pierced his stomach. The peasants found him dead and impaled upon the fence.
Upon arriving at the gate, Peter went over to the dead man, closed the dead man’s eyes, and placed the body in a “wagon and took it home.”
And the peasants learned, as should we, a most important lesson. “The power of God is manifested not in evil, but always in goodness.”
This is a story from Tolstoy – a story of the living words of the Christ. We do not find God’s power in evil but in what is good.
Almighty God, our walk is over, and we enter Your presence for a moment. It is difficult to follow a man like the Peter we read of today. And yet, You call us to do exactly that. We are to be a people of peace. As Easter approaches, may we remember that we must never seek to correct evil through evil actions for that is not ever the Christian way. May we have the courage to always live by the teachings of our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
Until our next walk, “ May the Lord watch between me and thee while we are absent one from the other.”