Martin Luther on the Good Samaritan and Charity

“The fact is that wherever his [Christ’s] Word is welcomed and received in faith, it fashions people like the Samaritan here–gentle, compassionate, merciful people.  They cannot bear to see anyone suffering and when this happens they tender their own resources and provide help howsoever they can.  This is what Christ is picturing in this example.  He is speaking here of needy, suffering people, like this wounded man, a person not at all unpleasant.  To worthless, good-for-nothing, lazy beggars, who gain their livelihood by begging, and help no one, refuse to tend cattle or do any other menial kind of work, and yet want money in their pockets, we should not give a thing, but let them die of hunger.”  Martin Luther, “Sermon for the Thirteenth Sunday After Trinity,” trans. and ed. Eugene Klug, Sermons of Martin Luther: The House Postils, vol. 2 (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1996), p. 404.

Dr Luther preaches on the gospel of St Luke 10:23-37 here.  This reading contains Jesus’ famous parable of the Good Samaritan.  In this quote Luther is explaining the fruits of the gospel at work in the Christian’s life.  However, this statement also reflects the Reformers’ approach to poverty relief and social welfare.  The Wittenberger Reformers sought to implement new forms of poverty relief very early in the 1520s.  This reform supplied needs for struggling fellow Christians, but also undercut the late medieval practice of charitable giving to beggars in exchange for heavenly benefits.  Notice how Luther singles out charlatan beggars as unworthy of true charity.*

*On the Lutheran Reformation and poverty relief see Carter Lindberg, Beyond Charity: Reformation Initiatives for the Poor (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1995).

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