eo Tolstoy's story Two Old Men tells the tale of two men, Efim and Elisha, who decide that before they die they must make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. After months of planning, they collect what they will need and begin to walk. After a long day on the road, they come to a village that seems deserted. No one is about, and seeing a small hut, they look in to see what has happened. They enter its darkness and smell death. As their eyes adjust to the lack of light, they see bodies on beds. With trepidation they come close, and see that the people are still alive, but barely.
Elisha wants to stay and help. He encourages his companion to go on beyond the village, "And I will catch up with you." But as Elisha opens doors and windows, and offers them food and drink, he begins to see that their needs are more complex than he first imagined—and that it is not only them, but the whole village that is suffering. He finds his friend and tells Efim that he wants to stay longer, encouraging him to make his way on to Jerusalem. "I will find you," he says.
So one man stays in the village, helping the villagers find their way again to happiness and health, never going on to Jerusalem, eventually returning home; the other man makes his way to Jerusalem. He keeps waiting for his friend who never comes, so before long he returns home to Russia—again, walking across a continent. At one point along the way, he comes to a village that seems strangely familiar to him. And then he realizes that it is where he left his friend—but everything seems very different now. Men and women, older and younger, are busy at work and play; animals are healthy, and the crops are growing, and so he asks, "What has happened?" In simple innocence, the villagers explain that a man stopped along the way and gave them back their life.
Possible Preaching Angle: The story concludes with both men finally at home, telling the stories of their pilgrimages. Tolstoy has no desire to tell a black-and-white story, with a good man and a bad man; it is more nuanced than that, as life is. The last lines tell of their joy in meeting together again. But, clearly, one man paid attention to the needs around him. His pilgrimage became saving the village.
What is your pilgrimage?