As I was thinking more about last Sunday’s Gospel yesterday — “Lord, will only a few people be saved?” — this line from Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment popped back into my head. [As an aside, I first read it in a class I took in Russian literature back in 1989, and that book, along with all the other Russian authors I got to read (Gogol, Turgenev, Tolstoy, Chekhov and Gorki), left a lasting and powerful impact on my imagination.] This particular line from Crime and Punishment responds in an astonishing way to the question, “Who will be saved?” It seems to presume that the ‘saved,’ much like those ‘celestial sheep’ in Matthew 25:37-39, are astonishingly unaware of their worthiness for the Kingdom (while the ‘infernal goats’ are utterly startled by the revelation of their unworthiness). That makes me think further of my wife’s fabulous descriptor of a key quality of holiness: “Being unaware of yourself” — that very natural, unfeigned self-forgetfulness; that absence of self-obsessed do-gooding that is so often a part of our still un-redeemed selves.
This brilliantly sets the stage for this coming Sunday’s Gospel on Kingdom-humility.
Then Christ will say to us, ‘Come you also! Come you drunkards! Come you weaklings! Come you depraved!’ And he will say to us, ‘Vile creatures, you in the image of the beast and you who bear his mark. All the same, you come too!’ And the wise and prudent will say, ‘Lord, why are you welcoming them?’ And he will say, ‘O wise and prudent, I am welcoming them because not one of them has ever judged himself worthy.’ And he will stretch out his arms to us, and we shall fall at his feet, and burst into sobs, and then we shall understand everything, everything! Lord, your kingdom come!