A beautiful episode of intervening grace and its, er, fruit in Leo Tolstoy’s “Where Love Is, God Is”, found in the collection How Much Land Does a Man Need? and Other Stories and discussed in Paul Zahl’s presentation on Grace in Literature at our 2009 NYC Conference. An especially big hat-tip to GW for the incredibly heartwarming video at the end:
….When she was gone Martin ate some soup, cleared the table and sat down to work. As he worked he kept watching that window and every time a shadow fell across it he would immediately look up to see who was passing. People he knew and strangers passed, but no one in particular.
And then an old market woman stopped right in front of his window. She was carrying an apple‐basket but appeared to have sold most of her wares, as it was almost empty. On one shoulder was a sack of wood‐shavings which she had most probably collected at some place where they were building and was on her way home. The sack was clearly very heavy and was hurting her, so to shift it to her other shoulder she put it down on the pavement, placed the apple‐basket on a post and gave the shavings a shake. Just as she was doing this a boy in a ragged cap suddenly ran up, grabbed an apple and tried to run off with it. But the old woman had stopped him, turned round and grabbed his sleeve. The boy tried to struggle free, but the woman seized him with both hands, knocked his cap off and caught hold of his hair. The boy screamed and the woman cursed. Martin did not wait to make fast his awl but threw it down, rushed through the door and stumbled up the stairs, dropping his spectacles on the way. Out in the street the woman was cursing away, and evidently intended on hauling the boy off to the police station. He struggled and protested his innocence.
‘I never took it!’ he said. ‘What are you hitting me for? Let me go!’
Martin separated them, took the boy by the hand and said, ‘Let him go, Grandma. Forgive him, for Christ’s sake!’
‘I’ll forgive him, but not before he’s had a taste of some new birch twigs! I’m taking the little devil to the police station.’
Martin did his best to dissuade her. ‘Please let him go, Grandma. He won’t ever do it again. For Christ’s sake, let him go.’
The old woman released the boy, who wanted to run off, but Martin stopped him. ‘You should ask the old woman to forgive you,’ he said. ‘And don’t you ever do it again –- I saw you take it.’
The boy burst into tears and begged her to forgive him.
‘That’s the way! Now, here’s an apple for you,’ Martin said, taking an apple from the basket and handing it to the boy. ‘I’ll pay for it, Grandma,’ he added.
‘But you’ll only spoil little devils like him that way,’ she said. ‘What he deserves is such a thrashing he won’t be able to sit down for a week.’
‘Oh, Grandma!’ Martin retorted. ‘That may be our way, but it’s not God’s way. If the punishment for stealing just one apple is a thorough thrashing, then what should we deserve for our mortal sins?’
The old woman did not reply.
And Martin told her the parable of the master who excused one of his servants a great debt and how that servant went out and seized his own debtor by the throat. The old woman listened and so did the boy.
‘God has commanded us to forgive, otherwise He will not forgive us. We should forgive everyone – -not least thoughtless little boys!’
The old woman shook her head and sighed. ‘That’s all very well, but children are terribly spoilt these days.’
‘Then it’s up to us, their elders to teach them w hat’s right,’ Martin said.
‘Yes, I agree,’ the old woman replied. ‘I had seven children once, but now I’ve only one daughter.’
And she told him how and where she and her daughter were living, and how many grandchildren she had.
‘As you can see, I’m not very strong,’ she said, ‘but I still have to work myself to the bone. I feel so sorry for my grandchildren –- such lovely boys, all of them! No one is as kind to me as they are. And my Aksyutka wouldn’t leave me for anyone. “Dear Mummy,” she says, “you’re such a d ear!”’ And the old woman was quite overcome.
‘Well, I suppose it’s because he’s so young,’ she added, looking at the boy. ‘May God be with him.’
She was about to lift her sack on to her shoulders when the boy immediately ran forward to help. ‘Let me carry that for you, Grandma,’ he said, ‘I’m going your way.’
The old woman accepted and put the sack on the boy’s back.
And off they went down the street. The old woman forgot to ask Martin to pay for the apple and Martin stood there, watching and listening to them as they went.