Friday, January 16, 2015

Martin Luther's ethical take on the Good Samaritan parable

Martin Luther

Just like Luther’s first extant sermon included the ethical implications of the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus, in a 1544 sermon on Luke 14:1-11, Luther stresses the ethical implications of the parable of the Good Samaritan. Luther makes a distinction between the “outward use of the sabbath” (e.g., the time, hour, or place) and “the necessary works of love, which God requires at all times and hours and all places wherever there is need” (341-2). To keep the Sabbath, according to Jesus, is to do a “holy work” owed to God—to keep the Sabbath day holy and to preach “god’s word purely and holily”—to receive the Word of God, and to call upon and pray to God in “common assembly” (342-3). In this way, the Sabbath is made holy, and “our neighbor is also served through preaching and prayer . . . through which he is helped eternally” (343).
But that is only part of the command to keep the Sabbath holy; Christians must also follow the “second table” of the Ten Commandments, which commands us to help our neighbor whenever he is “in physical need and wherever you see that he needs your help.” God commands us to do this, not only on the Sabbath, “but in every time and hour” and in every place. Luther then says:
Thus this commandment concerning the Sabbath includes the whole law, so that the other commandments are not made null and void through it. For example, when I see my neighbor in need and in danger of life and limb, that I do not pass him by, like the priest and the Levite, and let him lie there and perish, so that in my very pretension of keeping the Sabbath pure I become a murderer of my brother, but rather serve and help him, like the Samaritan, who bound up the wounded man, set him on his beast, and brought him to an inn (344).

Luther then points to the example of Jesus, who first would preach a sermon to the congregation in the synagogues and then afterward healed the sick; thus he fulfilled both “tables” of the Ten Commandments.

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