October 5, 2020 - How Much Land?

In Leo Tolstoy’s short story, “How Much Land Does A Man Need?”, a struggling farmer named Pahom thinks, “If I had plenty of land, I shouldn’t fear the Devil himself.” The Devil himself, listening in, silently replies: “We will have a tussle. I will give you land enough and by means of that land I will get you into my power.”

Pahom then hears about Bashkirs, people who sell land cheaply. Pahom goes there and they offer him land for “a thousand rubles a day.” As far as he can walk in one day, that’s what he can buy for his thousand rubles, but on one condition: “If you don’t return,” they said, “on the same day to the spot whence you started, your money is lost.”

Thrilled, Pahom takes off, walking and walking and walking, marking off the edges of this rich, virgin soil that will soon be his. He keeps going and going, as far as he possibly can, before making a turn. Though covering a lot of land, he soon realizes that he must get back or he’ll have none. Drained, exhausted (he had walked so far), he sees that he has no time to lose, that the sun is almost setting and if he’s not back right away all will be lost. He runs as fast as he can, in a panic that it will be too late. Then, just as he gets close to reaching the point where he started, Pahom collapses--dead.

“The Bashkirs clicked their tongues to show their pity.”

Tolstoy ended his story (“How Much Land Does a Man Need?”) like this: “His servant picked up the spade and dug a grave long enough for Pahom to lie in and buried him in it. Six feet from his head to his heels was all he needed.”

How much land, or how many houses, or how big of bank accounts, do we need? No matter how much we have, it can seem, can it not, that we always need (or think that we need) more? As the Word says: “So the eyes of man are never satisfied” (Proverbs 27:20).

How careful we need to be, then, as Jesus, said, to “lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal” (Matthew 6:20). Otherwise, we might find all our earthly treasures, all that we had laid up in store for us now, are worth nothing more than, well, six feet of land.

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