In the course of thought, as the tongue wags on, Isaac and “the best” are confidently identified, and he who meditates can very well smoke his pipe during the meditation, and the auditor can very well stretch out his legs in comfort. In case that rich young man whom Christ encountered on the road had sold all his goods and given to the poor, we should extol him, as we do all that is great, though without labor we would not understand him — and yet he would not have become an Abraham, in spite of the fact that he offered his best. What they leave out of Abraham’s history is dread; for to money I have no ethical obligation, but to the son the father has the highest and most sacred obligation. Dread, however, is a perilous thing for effeminate natures, hence they forget it, and in spite of that they want to talk about Abraham.
So they talk — in the course of the oration they use indifferently the two terms, Isaac and “the best.” All goes famously. However, if it chanced that among the auditors there was one who suffered from insomnia — then the most dreadful, the profoundest tragic and comic misunderstanding lies very close. He went home, he would do as Abraham did, for the son is indeed “the best.” If the orator got to know of it, he perhaps went to him, he summoned all his clerical dignity, he shouted, “O abominable man, offscouring of society, what devil possessed thee to want to murder thy son?” And the parson, who had not been conscious of warmth or perspiration in preaching about Abraham, is astonished at himself, at the earnest wrath which he thundered down upon that poor man. He was delighted with himself, for he had never spoken with such verve and unction. He said to himself and to his wife, “I am an orator. What I lacked was the occasion. When I talked about Abraham on Sunday I did not feel moved in the least.” In case the same orator had a little superabundance of reason which might be lost, I think he would have lost it if the sinner were to say calmly and with dignity, “That in fact is what you yourself preached on Sunday.” How could the parson be able to get into his head such a consequence? And yet it was so, and the mistake was merely that he didn’t know what he was saying. Would there were a poet who might resolve to prefer such situations, rather than the stuff and nonsense with which comedies and novels are filled! The comic and the tragic here touch one another at the absolute point of infinity. The parson’s speech was perhaps in itself ludicrous enough, but it became infinitely ludicrous by its effect, and yet this consequence was quite natural.
Or if the sinner, without raising any objection, were to be converted by the parson’s severe lecture, if the zealous clergyman were to go joyfully home, rejoicing in the consciousness that he not only was effective in the pulpit, but above all by his irresistible power as a pastor of souls, who on Sunday roused the congregation to enthusiasm, and on Monday like a cherub with a flaming sword placed himself before the man who by his action wanted to put to shame the old proverb, that “things don’t go on in the world as the parson preaches.” In the old days they said, “What a pity things don’t go on in the world as the parson preaches” — perhaps the time is coming, especially with the help of philosophy, when they will say, “Fortunately things don’t go on as the parson preaches; (or after all there is some sense in life, but none at all in his preaching.” If on the other hand the sinner was not convinced, his situation is pretty tragic. Presumably he would be executed or sent to the lunatic asylum, in short, he would have become unhappy in relation to so-called reality — in another sense I can well think that Abraham made him happy, for he that labors does not perish.