Monday, January 12, 2015

Martin Luther: Rich Man and Lazarus; faith and good works (part 2)

David Teniers the Younger, The Rich Man being led into Hell

Likewise, in later comments, Luther compares the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus to James 2:13, which stresses the necessity of extending mercy to other human beings if one wants to receive mercy from God. Luther also emphasizes the importance of mercy to the needy, but he especially focuses on poor ministers and preachers. He notes that the world is full of people who “sin very grievously against the dear Gospel,” not only by refusing support to needy ministers but by committing theft against the Gospel. Luther cautions that those refusing to show mercy “might experience endless wrath and eternal displeasure,” just like the rich man in the parable: The rich man saw Lazarus every day “lying before his door full of sores, yet he did not have enough mercy to give him a bundle of straw or to grant him the crumbs under his table.” Therefore, the rich man was punished terribly in hell (LW 21: 31–2; Gowler 2014: 169).
Luther explores this parable further in another sermon preached sometime during 1522-3 (see The Sermons of Martin Luther
, volume IV:17-32). The beginning of the sermon makes the case that faith comes first and then acts of love therefore must follow: “I hope you are abundantly and sufficiently informed that no human being can be pleasing to God unless he believes and loves” (18). Therefore, the rich man must have, in some way, been an unrepentant sinner, although the text does not record any sins such as murder, robbery, or adultery,. In other words, like the Pharisee in the parable of the Pharisee and the Publican, the rich man in the parable must have been 
as honorable and respectable in his life as that Pharisee who fasted twice a week and was not as other men, of whom Luke 18:11f. speaks. For had he committed such glaring sins the Gospel would have mentioned them since it examines him so particularly that it describes even the purple robe he wore and the food he ate, which are only external matters and God does not judge according to them. Therefore he must have led outwardly an exemplary, holy life; and according to his own opinion and that of others, he must have kept the whole law of Moses (18).
Luther, however, attempts to “look into his heart and judge his spirit,” with a result that “if we judge this rich man according to the fruits of faith, we will find a heart and a tree of unbelief” (19). The man is not punished for his wealth; instead he is punished because “he found in them all his joy, delight and pleasure; and made them in fact his idols” (19). Since he only gratified his own desires, he lived only for himself and served only himself, and his inner sinfulness is on display with the absence of his love and mercy for Lazarus:
From this now follows the other sin, that he forgets to exercise love toward his neighbor; for there he lets poor Lazarus lie at his door, and offers him not the least assistance. And if he had not wished to help him personally, he should have commanded his servants to take him in and care for him. For the nature of faith is that it expects all good from God, and relies only on God. For from this faith man knows God, how he is good and gracious, that by reason of
such knowledge his heart becomes so tender and merciful, that he wishes cheerfully to do to every one, as he experiences God has done to him. Therefore he breaks forth with love and serves his neighbor out of his whole heart, with his body and life, with his means and honor, with his soul and spirit, and makes him partaker of all he has, just like God did to him. Therefore he does not look after the healthy, the high, the strong, the rich, the noble, the holy persons, who do not need his care; but he looks after the sick, the weak, the poor, the despised, the sinful people, to whom he can be of benefit, and among whom he can exercise his tender heart, and do to them as God has done to him (20-21).

Lazarus, on the other hand, must have had faith, because “without faith it is impossible to please God”; otherwise God would not have rewarded him (23). Luther concludes that this parable demonstrates the following: 


For we all must like Lazarus trust in God, surrender ourselves to him to work in us according to his own good pleasure, and be ready to serve all men. And although we all do not suffer from such sores and poverty, yet the same mind and will must be in us, that were in Lazarus, cheerfully to bear such things, wherever God wills it (25).

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