I came across a short story by Count Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy. It is about Martin Avdéiteh, a cobbler.
As he aged, Martin suffered greatly in this life. All his children died in infancy except one son, his wife died young, and then his beloved son, Kapitón, fell ill and passed away.
Martin fell into a great depression. Despair and sorrow became his daily companions.
When a person has suffered such loss, depression is a natural consequence. One wonders, “Why am I still alive? Is this all there is to this life—to love and grieve? To face a life of loneliness in the declining years?”
One day, Martin encountered a holy man who offered advice to the aging cobbler. Martin took the advice and began reading the Gospels.
Like many people in despair, Martin wanted solace. As most people seek solace, they believe their god will visit them with divine relief.
So it was with Martin. He believed that Jesus would come to his basement workshop.
He eagerly waited and watched. What he saw from his basement window was an old gentleman, perhaps a veteran, named Stepániteh, sweeping the sidewalk. He looked cold and weary.
Martin invited him into his shop where he had his samovar (boiling pot) set for tea. He and Stepániteh enjoyed their tea as they talked.
There is nothing like a warm cup of tea on a winter day. When it is shared with someone, the day becomes brighter.
After Stepániteh went back to his sweeping, Martin continued working and glancing out the window for Jesus. Many people passed, dressed in fine boots and shoes, but as Martin watched, he saw a poorly dressed young woman and her baby struggling in the cold.
He invited her in to his shop. He fed her what he had prepared for himself: cabbage soup and bread. He gave her an old coat and 20 copecks (one fifth of a ruble) to retrieve her shawl, which she had pawned.
It was near nightfall and still—Jesus had not come. Martin pondered. Out of his window, he saw a market woman with her apple basket and a bag of wood chips scolding a young boy.
Rushing out to the street, he intervened with the woman to forgive the boy who had snatched an apple from her basket. After a long conversation about “the scamps” of the town being “spoiled,” Martin offered to pay for the apple, which he then gave to the boy.
The woman forgave the boy. In turn, the boy offered to carry her bag of wood chips to her house.
Martin returned to his shop. As night fell, he wondered why Jesus had not come. Like a revelation, he saw Stepániteh, the young woman and her baby and, of course, the apple woman and the young scamp emerge from the shadows of his shop.
Then Martin realized that what had happened that day was written in Matthew 25.
35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me as a guest,
36 I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you cared for me, I was in prison and you came to me.’
37 Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink?
38 And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you as a guest or naked and clothe you?
39 And when did we see you sick or in prison and come to you?’
40 And the king will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, in as much as you did it to one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did it to me.’
Matthew 25, Lexham English Bible (LEB)
As we watch out our basement windows at the passing scene of humanity, touching another soul with generosity is the greatest gift. It is magic to bring joy to a human being who is thirsting for a word of encouragement or a promise of hope.
A cup of tea from the samovar and a warm bowl of cabbage soup can feed many. Perhaps those many may be the ones next door, down the street, or family members who need just a word of warmth as they face the coldness of life.
There are many lonely people out there. Taking a moment to observe, to listen, and to interact on behalf of another sums up Matthew 25.
G.D. Williams has worked in Adventist higher education for 30+ years and is happily counting down to retirement. His other pursuits include photography, genealogy, collecting antique books, and working on his old farmhouse. The essay above is a summary and reflection of Tolstoy’s 1885 story, “Where Love Is, God Is.”
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