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The False Life

To obtain true life, man must on earth resign the false life of the flesh and live by the spirit.

As in Heaven so on Earth

Once his mother and brothers came to Jesus, and could not get to him because there were so many around him. A man seeing them went to Jesus and said: Your family, your mother and brothers, are standing outside wanting to see you. But Jesus said: My mother and my brothers are those who have understood the will of the Father, and do it.

And a woman exclaimed: Blessed is the womb that bore you and the breasts that you have sucked!

And Jesus replied: Only they are blessed who have understood the spirit of the Father and keep it.

And a man said to Jesus: I will follow you wherever you may go.

Jesus answered him: There is nowhere for you to follow me to: I have neither house nor any place to live in. The beasts have their dens and their lairs, but man is at home everywhere if he lives by the spirit.

It happened once that Jesus was sailing with his pupils in a boat. He said: Let us cross to the other side. A storm arose on the lake and the boat began to fill so that it nearly sank. But Jesus lay in the stern and slept. They woke him and said: Master, is it nothing to you if we are drowned? And when the storm subsided he said: Why are you so timid? You have no faith in the life of the spirit.

To one man Jesus said: Follow me.

But the man replied: I have a father who is old; let me first bury him and then I will follow you.

And Jesus said to him: Let the dead bury the dead, but if you wish really to live fulfill the Father's will and publish it.

Another man said: I wish to be your pupil and will fulfill the Father's will as you command, but let me first arrange my family affairs.

And Jesus said to him: If a plowman looks back he cannot Plow. As long as you look back you cannot plow. You must forget everything except the furrow you are driving and only then can you plow. If you consider what may befall your bodily life you cannot live, because you have not understood the real life. After this it happened that Jesus went with his pupils into a village, and a woman named Martha asked him into her house. She had a sister, Mary, who sat at Jesus' feet and listened to his teaching, while Martha was busy preparing a good meal for them.

And Martha went up to Jesus and said: Do you not see that my sister leaves me to do all the work? Tell her to help me with it.

In reply Jesus said to her: Martha, Martha! You busy yourself and are anxious about many things, but only one thing is needful; Mary has chosen that one necessary thing which no one shall take from her. The one thing needful for life is food for the soul.

And Jesus said to them all:

He who wishes to follow me, let him put aside his own will and be ready to endure all hardships and sufferings of the flesh throughout his life; only then can he follow me. He who wishes to take heed for his bodily life will destroy his true life, but he who obeys the will of the Father, even though he may destroy his bodily life, will save his true life. And what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world but destroys or harms his true life?

And he said: Beware of riches, for your life does not depend on possessing more than others.

There was once a rich man who had a large harvest. And he thought to himself, I will rebuild my barns and put up larger ones and gather all my wealth into them, and I will say to my soul: There, my soul, you have all you desire; rest, eat, drink, and live for your pleasure. But God said to him: Foolish man, tonight your soul will be taken and all that you have stored up will go to others. So it is with everyone who provides for his bodily life and does not live in God.

And Jesus said to them: You tell me that Pilate slew the Galileans. Were those Galileans any worse than others, that this happened to them? Not at all. We are all such, and we also shall all perish unless we find salvation from death. Or were those eighteen men who were crushed by a falling tower, worse than all the other people of Jerusalem? Not at all. If we do not save ourselves from death, today or tomorrow we too shall perish.

If we have not yet perished as they did, we must think of our position thus:

A man had an apple-tree in his garden and he came and looked at the tree and saw there was no fruit on it. And he said to the gardener: This is the third year I have been here and found that apple tree always barren. It must be cut down, for it only takes up space uselessly. But the gardener said: Let us wait awhile, master. I will dig round it, manure it, and we will see next summer. Perhaps it will bear fruit, but if not, then cut it down.

So we, too, while we live in the flesh and do not bear fruit of the life of the spirit, are barren apple trees. Only by someone's mercy are we left for another year. But if we do not bear fruit we too shall perish, like him who rebuilt his barns, like the Galileans, like the eighteen men crushed by the falling tower, and like all who do not bear fruit, perishing and dying for ever.

To understand this no wisdom is necessary; everyone can see it for himself. Not only in domestic affairs but in all that goes on in the world we can reason and guess what is coming. If the wind is from the west, we say: It will rain, and so it happens. But if there is wind from the south, we say: It will be fine, and so it happens. How is it that we can tell the weather, but cannot foresee that we shall all die and perish, and that the only salvation for us is in the life of the spirit, the fulfillment of its will?

And many people followed Jesus, and he again said to them all:

He who would be my follower, let him put out of mind his father, mother, wife, children, brothers, sisters, and all his property, and let him at all times be ready for anything. Only he who does what I do and follows my teaching can save himself from death.

For every man before beginning anything considers whether what he would do is profitable; if it seems profitable he does it, but if it seems unprofitable he will abandon it. Every man who builds a house first sits down and reckons how much it will cost, how much he has, and whether he can finish it; that it may not happen that having, begun to build he should be unable to finish, and so be laughed at.

So also he who wishes to live the life of the flesh should first consider how he can finish what he is engaged on.

Every king who wishes to go to war will first consider whether he can go against twenty thousand men with only ten thousand. If he sees that he cannot, he will send an ambassador to make peace, and will not go to war.

So let every man, before giving himself to the life of the flesh, bethink himself whether he can resist death or whether death is stronger than he, and whether he had not better make peace at once.

Each of you should first reckon all that he considers his own: family, money, and property. When he has considered what all this avails him, and understands that it avails him nothing, only then can he be my follower.

And hearing this, a man said: That is well if there be a life of the spirit. But what if we give up everything and there is no such life?

To that Jesus replied: Not so. Everyone knows the life of the spirit. You all know it. You do not practice what you know, not because you doubt, but because you are diverted from the true life by false cares and excuse yourself from it. This is like what you do: A master prepared a dinner and sent to invite guests, but they began to decline. One said: I have bought some land and must go to see it. Another said: I have bought some oxen and must try them. A third said: I have married and must give a wedding feast. And the servants came and told the master that no one would come. Then the master sent his servants to call in the poor, and they did not refuse but came. And when they had come there was still room to spare, so the master sent to call in others, saying: Go and persuade everyone you meet to come to my dinner, that there may be still more guests. But those who refused because they were busy missed the dinner.

All men know that the fulfillment of the will of the Father gives life, but they do not accept his invitation because they are drawn away by the guile of riches. He who gives up false transitory riches for true life in accord with the Father's will, acts as a clever steward did.

There was a steward to a rich master. This steward saw that his master would soon dismiss him and he would be left without food or shelter. And he thought to himself. This is what I will do. I will secretly give away some of my master's goods to the peasants and reduce their debts, and then if my master sends me away the peasants will remember my kindness and will help me. And he did so. He called the peasants who were in debt to his master, and re-wrote their quittances. For him who owed a hundred he made it fifty; instead of sixty he put down twenty, and for the others in the same way. When the master heard of this he said to himself: My steward has acted cleverly, for he saw he would have been left with nothing. He has caused me loss, but he has acted cleverly for himself. For in the bodily life we all understand what is advantageous, but in regard to the life of the spirit we do not wish to understand. We should give away the transitory and false riches of this life in order to I obtain the life of the spirit. If we grudge such trifles as riches for the life of the spirit, we shall not receive it. If we do not give up the false life our true life will not be given us.

It is not possible to serve two masters at once-God and riches: the will of the Father and your own will. You must serve either the one or the other.

The Orthodox heard this, and as they loved wealth they ridiculed him.

But he said to them: You think that because you are honored by men for your wealth you are really honorable. It is not so. God does not look at the exterior, but at the heart. That which is esteemed among men is despicable in God's sight. Even now the Kingdom of God is attainable on earth, and they who enter it are great. And it is not the rich who enter that kingdom, but those who have nothing. This always was so, and is so by your law and by Moses and the prophets. Listen how the rich the and poor stand, even in your belief.

There was a rich man, who dressed in fine clothes and went to amuse himself and to make merry every day. And there was a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores, who came to the rich man's yard to see if some scraps might not be left over from the rich man's feast; but Lazarus did not get even these, the rich man's dogs ate them all up and even licked Lazarus's sores. And both Lazarus and the rich man died. And when in hell the rich man saw Abraham afar off, and the beggar Lazarus sitting with him. And the rich man cried: Father Abraham, Lazarus the beggar is sitting with you, who used to lie outside my fence. I dare not trouble you; but send Lazarus the beggar to me: let him but dip his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am burning in the fire. But Abraham said: Why should I send Lazarus into the fire to you? In the world you had what you wished, but Lazarus only had sorrow, so now he must be comforted. And even though I might like to do it, I cannot send him to you, for there is a great gulf between us and you which cannot be crossed. We are living and you are dead. Then the rich man said: Well, Father Abraham, at least send Lazarus to my house. I have five brothers and am sorry for them. Let him tell them everything, and show them how harmful riches are, or they too may fall into this torment. But Abraham said: They know already that it is harmful. Moses and all the prophets have told them so. But the rich man said: Still, it would be better if someone were to rise from the dead and go to them, they would then bethink themselves. But Abraham said: If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, they would not listen even to one who rose from the dead.

That a man ought to share with his brother and do good to all men, is known to everyone. The whole law of Moses and the prophets only says that. You know it, but because you love riches you cannot obey it.

And a rich Orthodox official came to Jesus and said to him: You are a good teacher. What must I do to obtain everlasting life? Jesus said to him: Why do you call me good? Only the father is good. If you wish to have life, fulfill the commandments.

The official said: There are many commandments-which must I fulfill?

And Jesus said: Do not kill, do not lust, do not lie, do not steal. Also, honor your Father and fulfill his will, and love your neighbor as yourself. And the Orthodox official said: I have kept all those commandments since I was a child; but I ask what else must I do according to your teaching? Jesus looked at him and at his rich clothes, smiled, and said: One little thing you have not yet done. You have not fulfilled everything, as you say. If you wish to fulfill the commandments: not to kill, not to lust, not to steal, not to lie, and the chief command, to love your neighbor as yourself-then sell all your possessions at once and give to the poor. Then you will fulfill the Father's will.

Hearing this, the official frowned and went away, for he was loathe to part with his possessions.

And Jesus said to his pupils: As you see, it is quite impossible to be rich and to fulfill the Father's will.

The pupils were horrified at these words, but Jesus repeated them again, and said: Yes, children, it is impossible for him who has riches to be in the Father's will. A camel can pass through the eye of a needle sooner than he who trusts in riches fulfill the will of the Father. And they were still more horrified and said: How then can one preserve one's life?

But he said: To a man it seems that he cannot support his life without property, but God preserves a man's life without property.

Jesus was once passing through the town of Jericho. And a prominent tax-farmer was there, a rich man named Zacchaeus, who had heard of Jesus' teaching and believed in it, and when he learnt that Jesus was in Jericho he wished to see him. But there was such a crowd round Jesus that it was impossible to push through to him. Zacchaeus was a small man, so he ran ahead and climbed a tree that he might see Jesus as he went past. When passing the tree Jesus saw him, and knowing that he believed in his teaching said: Come down from the tree and go home. I will come to you. Zacchaeus climbed down, ran home, made ready to welcome Jesus, and received him joyfully.

The people disapproved of this and said of Jesus: Why, he has gone to a taxfarmer's, to a scoundrel's house!

At that very time Zacchaeus was saying to Jesus: See, Master, what I will do: I will give half my property to the poor, and out of what is left I will repay fourfold to all whom I have wronged.

And Jesus said: You have saved yourself. You were dead but have come to life; you were lost, but have found yourself; for you have done as Abraham did when by being ready to kill his own son he showed his faith. For herein is the whole life of man; to find and save that which is perishing in his soul. A sacrifice cannot be measured by its size.

It happened once that Jesus was sitting with his pupils near a collecting box. People were placing contributions in the box for God's service. Rich men went up to the box and put in much, and a poor widow came and put in two farthings.

And Jesus pointed to her and said: See, this poor widow, a beggar-woman, has given two farthings, and she has given more than all the others. For they gave what they did not need, while she has given all she had; she has put in her whole substance.

It happened that Jesus was at the house of Simon the leper.

And a woman came into the house and she had ajar of precious oil, worth thirty pounds. Jesus was saying to his pupils that his death was near, and the woman heard this and was sorry for him, and to show him her love poured oil on his head. And she forgot everything, and broke her jar, and anointed both his head and his feet, and poured out all the oil.

And the pupils began to discuss it, and said she had acted badly. And Judas, who afterwards betrayed Jesus, said: See how much she has wasted. That oil might have been sold for thirty pounds, with which many poor people could have been clothed. And the pupils began blaming the woman, who was abashed and did not know whether she had done well or ill.

Then Jesus said: You are wrong to trouble the woman; she has indeed done a good deed, and you are wrong to speak about the poor. If you want to do good to them, do so-they are always there. But why speak of them now? If you pity the poor, go with your pity and do them good. But this woman has pitied me and done good truly, for she has given away all that she had. Which of you can tell what is needful and what is not? How do you know that there was no need to anoint me with the oil? She has poured it on me to prepare my body for burial, and for that it was wanted. She has truly done the will of the Father by forgetting herself and pitying another. She forgot her worldly reckonings and gave away all that she had.

And Jesus said: My teaching is to do the Father's will, and His will can only be fulfilled by deeds, and not by words only. If a man's son keeps saying, 'I will, I will', to his father's bidding, but does not do what his father says, then he does not fulfill his father's will. But if another son says: 'I do not wish to obey', but then goes and does his father's bidding-he indeed fulfills his father's will. So also with men: not he is in the Father's will who says: 'I am in the Father's will', but he who does what the Father wishes.

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Leo Tolstoy

  • Full name: Count Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy
  • Russian novelist and philosopher
  • Born September 9th, 1828 and died November 20th, 1910
  • Best known for War and Peace (1869) and Anna Karenina (1877)

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