Dostoyevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov is one of my favorite books; “The Grand Inquisitor,” my favorite chapter. In it, Dostoyevsky masterfully crafts a parable that would hold any Christian’s attention. Christ returns to earth during the time of the Spanish Inquisition, and is condemned to exile because his judge disagrees with Jesus’ responses to the Devil during the testing in the desert. Besides being an incredible work of literature, this chapter is very difficult to digest for anyone who takes the Christian life seriously. Dostoyevsky left me, and I am sure many others, with a haunting question: How would I treat Christ if he were to come into my life?
Being ready for Christ’s return is a recurring theme in the Gospels. A number of parables deal with it — The Parable of the Ten Virgins, The Judgment of the Nations, The Parable of the Wedding Feast, On Being Vigilant. The early Christians clearly understood that our lives are marked by preparing ourselves to meet Christ. Their preoccupation with this reality was a lot more pronounced than ours because they thought his return was imminent. The consequences of not being prepared are very clear. For example, the five unprepared virgins are not only denied entrance to the wedding fest, but Jesus says to them, “I do not know you.”
But how can we prepare ourselves to meet someone whom we know only remotely? I received an answer not too long ago in a book entitled Contemplative Retreat by Franz Jalics. “So often, our relationship with God suffers from illusions because we think it depends only on intentions,” Jalics says. “The only way of knowing with certainty where we stand with regard to God, is to take all our human relationships together and look at them. What happens in these relationships also happens in our relationship with God.”
It is the same answer that Dostoyevsky came up with. Each generation, each person, would treat Christ in exactly the same way that we treat others. This is the stark truth contained in the Gospel passage, “Amen, I say to you, whatever you did [did not do] for one of these least brothers of mine, you did [did not do] for me” (Matthew 25:40). Preparing ourselves for the coming of Christ is as concrete as improving our relationships with others.
This makes so much sense to me. After all, I am fundamentally the same person in relationship with God and in relationship with others. My gut reactions, whether positive or negative, are the same regardless of who triggers them. If I look down on others, I look down on God. If I get angry with others, I get angry with God. If I ignore others, I ignore God. If I keep others at a distance, I keep God at a distance too. And here’s the biggie — if I judge others, I sit in judgment of God. Ouch! There’s not much difference between myself and the Grand Inquisitor after all.
The bottom line is this: If we take our relationship with God seriously, we must take our relationships with others seriously. If we want to improve our relationship with God, we must improve our relationships with others. Another way of saying this is that our relationship with others is our relationship with God. Loving God and loving our neighbor is the same thing. But we cannot love others/God unless we love ourselves. This is another huge truth that has been recognized in the Jewish tradition for millennia and was canonized by Jesus as the second greatest commandment: Love your neighbor as yourself.
In Luke, it is in the context of the two great commandments that Jesus tells the story of the Good Samaritan. By placing ourselves in the position of each character, we can make this parable our own and perhaps find some inspiration to grow in our relationship with ourselves, with others, and with God.
Become a Good Samaritan to another Busted Halo® reader and share the fruit of this exercise with us by posting a comment!