I Corinthians 13:13 - Part 2
The Grand Inquisitor is a parable found within Dostoevsky’s novel, The Brothers Karamazov. Jesus comes back to earth in the 15th century during the time of the Spanish Inquisition. He befriends some common folks which led to his arrest by the authorities. A quick trial is concluded with the church telling Jesus he is no longer needed on earth. As he sits in his dungeon awaiting execution, Jesus receives a visit from the Grand Inquisitor. Allow me to share a paraphrase of that conversation. The Inquisitor speaks,
I have condemned you because of the responses you gave Satan during your confrontation in the wilderness. You had the chance to give the people bread and you refused. You could have produced a great of miracle by throwing yourself off the temple but you didn’t. You could have ruled the world yet you turned your back on the opportunity. Instead, you held before the people the freedom of choice. How many folks can handle that responsibility? They don’t want freedom; they want to be taken care of. We are the ones who give them bread. They are not smart enough to realize we take what they produce and give it back to them. We enslave them to build temples and they fall on their knees worshipping a God that requires loyalty. We rule over them, for they would rather be subjects of an iron hand than confused by the choices liberty demands. Like you, I went to the wilderness. I lived on roots and locust. I saw your path of humility and rejected it. I will not join your madness. Your followers and I have one thing in common. You will be forgotten before the ashes of your body turn cold.
When the Inquisitor ceased speaking, he waited for Jesus to answer him. The old man longed for Jesus to say something, however bitter and terrible. Finally Jesus stood, approached the man in silence, and softly kissed him on his bloodless lips. The old man went to the jail door, opened it and said. “Go, and come no more.” And Jesus left.
In The Brothers Karamazov, Dostoyevsky bases his book on the difficult questions intertwining faith and doubt. The Inquisitor could not comprehend what the people saw in Jesus. He thought Jesus offered freedom to folks he surmised needed order. Instead Jesus offered a hope that no amount of failure, suffering, or desolation could eradicate.
What is hope? We can’t prove heaven, yet we dream of it. We can’t prove God, yet we joyfully sing, “Our hope is based on nothing less.” Children hope to become adults. Adults hope to become children of God. Isn’t it in these dreams that we discover the possibility of truth? And isn’t it in this truth that we discover a hope beyond what we could ever imagine?
Paul wrote to his friends in Rome, “I consider the sufferings of the present time not worth the glory being revealed to us.” Then he concluded, “Hope is that which cannot be seen, yet we wait for with patience.”
I think of those children who wandered into that cave in Thailand. They kept going deeper into the cave to escape the rising waters. Some of the boys had never learned to swim. Imagine the fear that swept through that community once the boys were discovered missing. Yet once the word went out, the world responded. 13 foreign divers assisted the Thai Seal team. Language, lack of equipment, fatigue was overcome by the possibility that the twelve boys and their coach might still be alive. Hope rules the day, yet if the Grand Inquisitor had been in charge, don’t you believe he would have calculated the cost and declared the children expendable?
Grand Inquisitors are driven by tally sheets. Hope is sustained by unrelenting love and a persistent imagination which believes that which cannot be confirmed. Alexander Pope wrote, “Hope springs eternal in the human breast”. Unfortunately, despite what we witnessed this week, too often the Grand Inquisitor gets his way.
George Watts, a 19th century English artist created a painting of a tranquil, blindfolded figure seated atop the planet Earth. Her head is sadly bowed as she plucks the only unbroken string of her harp. The name of the painting is Hope. I first encountered this painting in a sermon by Martin Luther King called Shattered Dreams. King describes the picture and then wrote, “We live in a world where our highest hopes are not realized. In despair some will distil all their frustrations into a core of bitterness and resentment. Some will withdraw completely into themselves. A few will adopt a fatalistic philosophy which believes everything is predetermined. But that woman still looks down on a world in disarray and plucks the only string remaining because she fervently believes God will hear her song.
We are practical people. We understand the rationale of the Grand Inquisitor better than we do the wishful plucks of a single string. It is absurd to think the way of the world will change just because it doesn’t suit us. And yet, despite all the evidence against us, we gather here on Sunday morning. This is the place where we pray for miracles we know will probably not happen. This is the place we care for the hungry, the injured and the impoverished realizing statistics say our generosity will not change anything. Yes, we are practical people, but we are first a resurrection people. In spite the evidence, we continue to believe that God hears and responds to the sound of that solitary note.
How crazy is that? Being fully aware of the ABSURDITY of hope, we choose to believe in the AUDACITY of hope. In other words, despite our anxiousness about tomorrow, we continue to work and dream of making today better.
Jesus had the audacity to say some absurd things. Do you recall the one where he insisted we not worry about what we eat, or drink, or wear? Just remember the lilies of the field. Or what about when Jesus said if people reject what you say, dust off your sandals and move on. Maybe the hardest to hear is Jesus promising there is peace amidst each storm and tranquility within each disaster.
We can decide Jesus is absurd and join the ranks of the Grand Inquisitor and his ever growing army of minions. Or we might have the audacity to play a one note samba declaring God’s way not only puts blood in your lips, but also a song of hope in your heart. To God be the glory. Amen.