Monday, January 26, 2015

Martin Luther's Sermon on the Wheat and Tares parable

Domenico Fetti, Parable of the Wheat and Tares

I just finished writing about John Maldonatus and the parables, and I included his discussion of the Wheat and Tares parable (I also will be writing about Roger Williams's famous interpretation of the parable and its importance for the separation of church and state in the United States). In the meantime, though, I am writing about Domenico Fetti's (should be more famous) paintings of the parables; hence the image above (although I won't include this image in the book; I have four other great ones; H/T to Mikeal Parsons for his recommendation of Fetti's works on the parables).

In this post, though, I want to continue my series on Martin Luther and write about his sermon on the Wheat and Tares.             

In a sermon preached in 1525 on the parable, Luther follows the standard interpretation that the sower is Jesus, the field is the world, and the enemy that sowed the tares was the devil, the harvest is the end of the world, and so forth. The question is what to do about the false Christians and heretics that dwell upon the earth with the “true Christians” (101). Jesus provides the answer with this parable:
Again this Gospel teaches how we should conduct ourselves toward these heretics and false teachers. We are not to uproot nor destroy them. Here he says publicly let both grow together. We have to do here with God's Word alone; for in this matter he who errs today may find the truth tomorrow. Who knows when the Word of God may touch his heart? But if he be burned at the stake, or otherwise destroyed, it is thereby assured that he can never find the truth; and thus the Word of God is snatched from him, and he must be lost, who otherwise might have been saved. Hence the Lord says here, that the wheat also will be uprooted if we weed out the tares. That is something awful in the eyes of God and never to be justified.
From this observe what raging and furious people we have been these many years, in that we desired to force others to believe; the Turks with the sword, heretics with fire, the Jews with death, and thus outroot the tares by our own power, as if we were the ones who could reign over hearts and spirits, and make them pious and right, which God's Word alone must do. But by murder we separate the people from the Word, so that it cannot possibly work upon them and we bring thus with one stroke a double murder upon ourselves, as far as it lies in our power, namely, in that we murder the body for time and the soul for eternity, and afterwards say we did God a service by our actions, and wish to merit something special in heaven.
Therefore this passage should in all reason terrify the grand inquisitors and murderers of the people, where they are not brazened faced, even if they have to deal with true heretics. But at present they burn the true saints and are themselves heretics. What is that but uprooting the wheat, and pretending to exterminate the tares, like insane people?

As an interesting side note, Luther also does not hesitate to include an argument for his ideas about human free will:
Today's Gospel also teaches by this parable that our free will amounts to nothing, since the good seed is sowed only by Christ, and Satan can sow nothing but evil seed; as we also see that the field of itself yields nothing but tares, which the cattle eat, although the field receives them and they make the field green as if they were wheat (103).

The above quotes are from volume II:100-104 of The Sermons of Martin Luther, published by Baker Book House (Grand Rapids, MI).

Back to preparations for the Honors Seminar class tomorrow.

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