Thursday, January 8, 2015

Martin Luther: Rich Man and Lazarus (part 1)

Martin Luther

Another short post on Martin Luther and the parables; this one is on the ethics of the parables and doing both physical and spiritual "good deeds" (more on Luther and James 2:13 in the next post).

Even in his early sermons, Luther focuses on the ethical implications of the parables. In what is likely to be the earliest extant sermon from Luther (around 1510-12), years before he wrote the 95 Theses, Luther focuses the Law of God and God’s judgment. The text is Matthew 7:12, the Golden Rule, and Luther argues that salvation is dependent upon human beings not just refraining from doing evil to one another but that it is necessary to be useful and beneficial toward other human beings (LW 1955 51:7). The parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus, for example, demonstrates this fact:
[The rich man] was not damned because he robbed or did evil with respect to these goods, for he feasted and clothed himself sumptuously every day with his own goods. He was damned rather because he did not do good to his neighbor, namely, Lazarus. This parable adequately teaches us that it is not sufficient merely not to do evil and not to do harm, but rather that one must be helpful and do good. It is not enough to “depart from evil”; one must also “do good” [Ps. 37:27].
 Luther then argues that the parable of the “slothful servant” in Matthew 25:14-30 makes the same point: “He was not damned because he took something away from others, but because he did not give to others. So it will be with us.” The same message is found, Luther points out, in the parable of the Sheep and Goats. After discussing the concluding words of Jesus in the parable, Luther concludes: “It is therefore not enough to be innocent of harming one’s neighbor; we must also do good as far as we are able” (8-9).

Luther’s first extant sermon, then, focuses on how Christians are called by Jesus to be active in helping others in words and deeds. These actions include both physical and spiritual “good deeds.”

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