The Failure of the Disciples and the Brothers Karamazov

On the night in which he was betrayed, Judas sold Jesus for money. When they arrived to arrest Jesus, Peter tried to help in a way contrary to Jesus’ teaching (taking up the sword, when Jesus has been teaching he would go to Jerusalem to die). When he was arrested, all the disciples fled. These failures are similar to the failures of the three brothers Karamazov.

Fyodor Dostoevsky’s novel The Brothers Karamazov (free on kindle) centers on the sons of Fyodor Pavlovich Karamazov. His oldest son, Dmitri, is passionate and reckless. He lives a debauched life like his father, but unlike his father he genuinely regrets the hurt he causes others. The middle son, Ivan, is a cold, rational skeptic. He is ultimately so troubled by the suffering of children that he cannot believe in God. The youngest son, Alyosha, is almost completely pure. He has genuine doubts and faces real temptation, but he loves people and has a mature faith in God. We know Alyosha is good because he knows himself to be a sinner.

For all of Alyosha’s goodness, he can do nothing about his father’s wickedness. The father is so wicked that it is no surprise when he is murdered. The only question is who did it. Alyosha does not know who committed the murder. He seems powerless to help his brother Dmitri overcome his urges and indulgence, and he cannot win Ivan to faith.

Alyosha stands like a point of light on the dark backdrop of his wicked father and the impulsive Dmitri and the unbelieving Ivan. Alyosha, however, faces situations where he knows he has failed, situations where he cannot make things better.

Dmitri’s troubles arise from the fact that he loves the world.

The temptation that faced Judas was of the sort that offered him acceptance in place of rejection, wealth instead of poverty, influence in place of obscurity.

Ivan’s troubles relate to a panic that drives him insane.

The failure of the disciples when they flee Jesus seems to come down to panic, self-preservation, and disregard for what—who—matters more than their lives. They are like sheep fleeing when the shepherd has been struck, just as Jesus said they would be in Mark 14:27.

Alyosha’s troubles mainly arise from his not always knowing the best course of action in a particular situation.

Peter’s failure with the sword arose from a lack of understanding and an inability to see the right thing to do, so he acted instinctively and wrongly.

On the night he was betrayed, Jesus alone stands against overwhelming evil. Jesus is our only hope against it. Mark 14:26–52 is in the Bible to teach us our absolute need for Jesus. Jesus alone knows God’s will. Jesus alone resists temptation to stand courageous. Jesus alone can save.

The Brothers Karamazov ends in slight moral ambiguity. I won’t tell you who is convicted of the murder of the father, Fyodor Pavlovich, but the wrong man is condemned. That man then flees Russia to America to escape the miscarriage of justice. So technically he is a fugitive, but he didn’t commit the crime (and he does repent of his many sins).

There will be no injustice and no moral ambiguity at the end of the story in which Jesus is the main character.

On Sunday, July 3, it was my privilege to preach Mark 14:26–52, “Jesus Stands Alone,” at Kenwood Baptist Church.

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