For this Ash Wednesday let’s look into Luther’s Theology of the Cross and for the midweek Lenten Services let’s then plan to take up a number of themes that come from Luther’s life and thought.
First a word about the Gospel lesson: Jesus wants us to pray and fast and give charity in secret. When you do it to be seen by others, then you are really getting some mileage from it in terms of prestige, so you have a reward. It is far better to have integrity than to be a phony, wanting to present a false image of yourself to the world. Doing good in secret does not only provide us with internal integrity, where only God and you yourself know that you did something good and wonderful, but you also set a powerful kind of goodness afoot to counteract all the evil that is done in secret. Then your goodness is accompanied by a spiritual force that will take others by surprise and overwhelm them. You also get help directly from God who strengthens your inner person, making you true and genuine. Otherwise you present yourself as so very good before others while really you are a façade with nothing behind it: nobody of that description there.
Martin Luther was born on November 10th in 1483 in Eisleben and died there too in 1546. He was baptized on the Day after he was born, on St. Martin’s Day, and thus named after the great Bishop of Tours of the fourth century. His mother, Margarete and father, Hans were up and coming burghers, because the father went into mining in Mansfeld and they could afford to send him to good schools hoping that he would one day study law and bring them fortune.
Luther was a good student and soon began his law studies in the University of Erfurt in Thuringia. On his way back to school from a trip to his parents at home, he was caught in a thunder and lightning storm near the village of Stotternheim. A flash of lightning struck beside him, knocked him down and he injured his leg. In his fright he shouted, “Save me, St. Anne, and I’ll become a monk!” To the dismay of his fellow students, he turned his back on the world and entered the observant and very strict Augustinian Monastery in Erfurt.
Luther was a very great scholar, having mastered Latin, Greek, and Hebrew as well as reading the complete scriptures twice every year, indeed translating the New Testament from Greek in 1522 and the whole bible from Greek and Hebrew in 1534. His “works” number over a hundred thick volumes, while he taught that we are not saved by our works, but by faith alone. But he wanted to speak to common, ordinary people in simple language and have our Christian faith be understood by laypeople, and for the catechism, especially by children. When his little three year old son was learning to speak he ran around the room pointing to things, asking, “Was ist das?” (What is that?) So to put the basic beliefs in the most understandable form for even little children to understand, he asked the question of his little son, which we translate “What does this mean?” after every basic commandment, article, petition, and explanation of the sacraments.
Luther wrote one pamphlet after another in the movement that became the Reformation. He was the first author whose writing publications numbered in the millions especially when his New Testament came out in 1522 and when his translation of the whole Bible came out in 1534. Illiterate peasants learned how to read by reading it, while discovering that the old believing priests had never read it and did not know what was in it.
We remember how Jacob is in full flight from his enraged brother and takes a stone for a pillow and dreams that he sees angels ascending and descending from heaven on the rungs of a ladder and God makes a covenant with him and give him promises like that to Father Abraham. Jacob then calls the place Bethel that means, the house of God, and promises to give ten percent of all he had as an offering to God. Bethel becomes Shiloh and is the holy place of Israel until David takes the arc to Jerusalem.
I’ve always believed that Luther’s theology was good therapy for someone with mental distress. Paul Tillich translated Luther’s justification by grace into modern language: God’s acceptance of those who are unacceptable, making them acceptable. In his book “The Theology of Pastoral Care,” he writes,
“The power which makes acceptance possible is the resource of all pastoral care. It must be effective in [the person] who helps and it must become effective in [the person]] who is helped….This means that both the pastor and the counselee…are under the power of something that transcends both of them. One can call this power the new creature or the New Being. The pastoral counselor can be of help only if [she or] he is grasped by this power.”
Thus Luther’s justification by grace is really basic to all therapy.
PARENT PAGE: Religious Studies