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The Service of God

Therefore man should work not for the flesh, but for the spirit.

Which art in Heaven

It happened that Jesus was walking across a field with his pupils one Saturday. The pupils were hungry, and on the way they plucked ears of corn and rubbed them in their hands and ate the grain. But according to the teaching of the Orthodox, God had given Moses a law that everyone should observe Saturday and do nothing that day. According to the teaching of the Orthodox, God had ordered that anyone who worked on Saturday should be stoned.

The Orthodox noticed that the pupils rubbed ears of corn on a Saturday and said to them: It is wrong to do that on a Saturday. One must not work on Saturday, and you are rubbing ears of corn. God made Saturday holy, and commanded that the breaking of it should be punished by death.

Jesus heard this, and said: If you understood what is meant by the words of God: 'I desire love and not sacrifice'-you would not condemn what is harmless. Man is more important than Saturday. It happened another time on a Saturday that when Jesus was teaching in the Assembly a sick woman came to him and asked him to help her. And Jesus began to cure her.

The Orthodox church-elder was angry with Jesus, and said to the people: In the law of God it is said: 'There are six days in the week on which to work. But Jesus then asked the Orthodox professors of the law: Do you think it is wrong to help a man on Saturday? And they did not know what to answer.

Then Jesus said: Deceivers! Does not each of you untie his ox from its manger and take it to water on Saturday? And if his sheep fell into a well would not any one of you pull it out even on Saturday? A man is much better than a sheep: yet you say that it is wrong to help a man. What then do you think we should do on Saturday-good or evil? Save life or destroy it? Good should be done always, even on Saturday.

Jesus one day saw a tax-gatherer receiving taxes. The tax-gatherer's name was Matthew. Jesus talked to him and Matthew understood him, liked his teaching, and invited him to his house and showed him hospitality.

When Jesus came to Matthew's house some of Matthew's friends were also there tax-gatherers and unbelievers. Jesus did not disdain them, but he and his pupils sat down with them. And when the Orthodox saw him, they said to his pupils: How is it that your teacher eats with tax-gatherers and unbelievers? For according to the teaching of the Orthodox, God forbids any intercourse with unbelievers. Jesus heard this, and said: He who boasts of good health needs no doctor, but a sick man does. Understand what the words of God mean: 'I desire love and not sacrifice.' I cannot teach a change of faith to those who consider themselves Orthodox, but to those who consider themselves unbelievers.

Some Orthodox professors of the law came to Jesus from Jerusalem. And they saw that his pupils, and Jesus himself, ate bread without having washed their hands, and these Orthodox began to blame him for that, for they themselves strictly observed the Church tradition as to how the dishes should be washed, and would not eat unless they had been so washed. And they would also not eat anything from the market until they had washed their hands.

And the Orthodox professors of the law asked him: Why do you not follow the Church traditions, but take bread with unwashed hands and eat it? And he answered them: How is it that you with your Church traditions break God's commandment? God said to you: 'Honor your father and mother'. But you have arranged that anyone may say-. 'I give to God what I used to give to my parents', and then he is not bound to feed his father and mother. So by the Church tradition you break the law of God. Deceivers! Well did the prophet Isaiah say of you: 'Because these people fall down before me only in words, and honor me only with their tongue, while their heart is far from me; and because their fear of me is only a human law which they have learnt by rote, I will do a wonderful, an extraordinary thing among them: the wisdom of their wise men shall be lost, and the understanding of their thinkers shall be dimmed. Woe to those who seek to hide their desires from the Highest, and who do their deeds in darkness.'

So it is with you: You neglect what is important in the law-the commandment of God-but observe your own traditions as to the washing of cups. And Jesus called the people to him and said: Hear all of you and understand: there is nothing in the world that entering a man can defile him; but what goes forth from him, that can defile a man. Let love and mercy be in your soul, then all will be clean. Try to understand this.

And when he returned home his pupils asked him what those words meant. And he said: Do you also not understand? Do you not understand that what is external, bodily, cannot defile a man? For it does not enter his soul but his belly. It enters his belly and passes out again. Only that which goes out of him from his soul can defile a man. For out of a man's soul proceed evil, adulteries, obscenity, murders, thefts, covetousness, wrath, deceit, insolence, envy, calumny, pride, and every kind of folly. And this evil is out of man's soul and it alone can defile him.

After this came the Passover, and Jesus went to Jerusalem and entered the temple. In the courts of the temple were cattle: cows, bulls, and sheep; and there were cotes for pigeons; and money-changers behind their counters. All this was wanted for offerings to God. The animals were killed and offered up in the Temple. That was how the Jews prayed, as they had been taught by the Orthodox professors of the law. Jesus went into the Temple, plaited a whip, drove all the cattle out of the porch, turned out all the doves, and scattered all the money, and bade them not bring such things into the Temple.

He said: The prophet Isaiah said to you: 'The house of God is not the Temple in Jerusalem, but the whole world of God's people.' And the prophet Jeremiah also told you: 'Do not believe the falsehood that the house of God is here; do not believe this, but change your lives: do not judge falsely, do not oppress a stranger, a widow, or an orphan, do not shed innocent blood, and do not come into the house of God and say: 'Now we can quietly do evil.' Do not make my house a den of thieves.'

And the Jews objected and said: You say that our way of serving God is wrong. How can you prove that? And Jesus turned to them and said: Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise a new, living temple. And the Jews said: How can you suddenly build a new temple, when this one took forty years to build? And Jesus said to them: I speak to you of what is more important than the temple. You would not speak as you do if you understood the meaning of the prophet's words: 'I, God, do not rejoice in your sacrifices, but in your love of one another.' The living temple is the whole world of men when they love one another.

And many people in Jerusalem believed in what he said. But he himself believed in nothing external for he knew that everything is within man. He had no need that anyone should give witness of man, for he knew that the spirit is in man. And Jesus had once to pass through Samaria. He came to the Samaritan village of Sychar, near the place that Jacob gave to his son Joseph. Jacob's well was there, and Jesus, being tired by his journey, sat down by it while his pupils went into the town to fetch bread.

And a woman came from Sychar to draw water, and Jesus asked her to give him to drink. She said to him: How is it that you ask me to give you water? For you Jews have no dealings with us Samaritans. But he said to her: If you knew me and knew what I teach you would not say that, but would give me to drink and I would give you the water of life. Whoever drinks of the water from this well will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water of life shall always be satisfied, and it will bring him to everlasting life.

The woman understood that he was speaking of divine things, and said to him: I see that you are a prophet and wish to teach me. But how can you teach me divine things when you are a Jew and I am a Samaritan? Our people pray to God upon this mountain, but you Jews say that the house of God is only in Jerusalem. You cannot teach me divine things, for you have one religion and we have another. Then Jesus said to her: Believe me, woman, the time has arrived when people will come neither to this mountain nor to Jerusalem to pray to the Father. The time has come when the real worshipers of God will honor the heavenly Father in spirit and by their works. The Father has need of such worshipers. The woman did not understand what he meant by saying that God is a spirit, and she said: I have heard that a messenger of God will come, he whom they call the anointed. He will tell us everything.

Jesus said to her: It is I who am speaking to you. Do not expect anything more. After this Jesus came to the country of the Jews and lived there with his pupils and taught. At that time John was teaching near Salim, and bathing people in the river Enon, for he had not yet been imprisoned. And a dispute arose between John's pupils and those of Jesus as to which was better-John's cleansing by water, or the teaching of Jesus. And they came to John and said to him: You cleanse with water, but Jesus only teaches, and all go to him. What do you say about him?

John said: A man can of himself teach nothing unless God teach him. He who speaks of the earth is of the earth, but he who speaks of God is from God. It cannot be proved whether spoken words are from God or not from God. God is a spirit; He cannot be measured and cannot be proved. He who understands the words of the spirit proves thereby that he is of the spirit. The Father, loving his son, has entrusted everything to him. He who believes in the son has life, but he who does not believe in the son has no life. God is the spirit in man. After this one of the Orthodox came to Jesus and invited him to dinner. Jesus went in and sat down to table. The Orthodox man noticed that Jesus did not wash before the meal and was surprised. Jesus said to him: You Orthodox people wash everything outside, but is everything clean within you? Be kind to all men and everything will be clean.

And while he was in the house of the Orthodox man, a woman of the town, who was a wrong-doer came there. She had learnt that Jesus was in that house and came there and brought a bottle of perfume. And she knelt at his feet and wept, and wetting his feet with her tears wiped them with her hair, and poured the perfume over them.

The Orthodox man saw this and thought to himself: He can hardly be a prophet. If he were really a prophet he would know what sort of a woman it is that is washing his feet: he would know that she is a wrong-doer and would not let her touch him.

Jesus, guessing his thought, turned to him and said: Shall I tell you what I think? Yes, do so, replied his host. Then Jesus said: There were two men who held themselves debtors to one master, one for five hundred pieces of money and the other for fifty. And neither of them had anything to pay with. And the creditor forgave them both. Which of them do you think would love the creditor and care for him most? The host replied: He of course that owed most. Then Jesus pointed to the woman and said: So it is with you and this woman. You consider yourself Orthodox. And therefore a small debtor; she considers herself wrong-doer and therefore a great debtor. I came into your house and you did not give me water to wash my feet; she washes them with her tears and wipes them with her hair. You did not kiss me, but she kisses my feet. You gave me no oil for my head, but she anoints my feet with precious perfume. He who considers himself Orthodox will not do works of love; only he who considers himself a wrong-doer will do them. And for works of love everything is forgiven. And he said to her: Your wickedness is forgiven you. And Jesus said:.Everything depends on what a man considers himself to be. He who considers himself good will not be good, but he who considers himself bad is good.

And he added: Two men came into the Temple to pray. One was Orthodox, and the other was a tax-farmer.

The Orthodox man prayed: I thank thee, O God, that I am not as other men, not miserly, nor a libertine, nor a deceiver, nor such a wretch as that tax-farmer. I fast twice a week, and give away a tenth of my property. But the tax-farmer stood far away, and dared not look up to heaven but only beat his breast, saying: God, look upon me, sinner that I am.

This was a better prayer than that of the Orthodox man, for he who exalts himself abases himself, and he who humbles himself raises himself. Then some pupils of John came to Jesus and said: Why do your pupils not fast, while we and the Orthodox fast a great deal? The law of God orders fasting. And Jesus said to them: While the bridegroom is at the wedding no one grieves. Only when the bridegroom has gone do they grieve.

Having life, one should not grieve. The external service of God cannot be combined with the activity of love. The old teaching of external service of God cannot be combined with my teaching of active love of one's neighbor. To unite my teaching with the old is like tearing a piece from a new garment and sewing it onto an old one. The new one will be torn and the old one will not be mended. Either all my teaching must be accepted or all the old, and having accepted my teaching it is impossible to keep the old teaching of purification, fasting, and keeping Saturday-just as new wine must not be poured into old wine-skins, or the old skins will burst and the wine will be spilt. New wine must be put into new wineskins and then they will both be preserved.

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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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