Martin Luther: Submit and Serve

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This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down His life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. 1 John 3:16

“Now if a deadly epidemic strikes, we should stay where we are, make our preparations, and take courage in the fact that we are mutually bound together so that we cannot desert one another or flee from one another. First, we can be sure that God’s punishment has come upon us, not only to chastise us for our sins but also to test our faith and love — our faith in that we may see and experience how we should act toward God; our love in that we may recognize how we should act toward our neighbor. I am of the opinion that all the epidemics, like any plague, are spread among the people by evil spirits who poison the air or exhale a pestilential breath which puts a deadly poison into the flesh. Nevertheless, this is God’s decree and punishment to which we must patiently submit and serve our neighbor, risking our lives in this manner.”

Martin Luther (1483-1546) in “Whether One May Flee From A Deadly Plague” from Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 43: Devotional Writings II, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann, vol. 43 (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999), 119–138.

As the world adapts to the shutdown of most normal social activities, the opinion of Luther nearly five centuries earlier seems as appropriate and relevant as ever.

God has allowed this global crisis to chastise us, shake us, and wake us to our sin and position us to respond in humility and repentance, faith and love. Will we?

The disease running rampant is of the evil one for sure. But God has allowed it for our good, to reset our focus to submission and service whatever days we have.

I never dreamed my word for the year, compassion, would be so timely. God, help us leave cowardice behind and choose compassion in response to the plague. Amen.