Some years ago, we were on a "Cities of the Reformation" tour, and we visited Eisleben, Germany, where Martin Luther, the great Reformer, was born on November 10th, 1483, and where he died on February 18th, 1546. We also visited Wittenberg, Germany, where he posted on the door of the Castle Church on October 31st, 1517, his 95 theses of protest against the practices of the church. During May of this present year, I learned something else about him that I had never heard before. On August 2nd, 1527, the deadly Bubonic Plague struck the town of Wittenberg.
The plague was spread by bites from fleas carried by rats. Lymph nodes would swell into huge boils, with fever, headaches, and vomiting. Death would follow in ten days for 30 to 90 percent of cases.
People were advised to leave town in an effort to escape the plague, but Luther refused, instead staying behind to tend the sick. Later, to a friend, he wrote a 14-page letter, which was subsequently published, expressing his viewpoint as to how Christians should deal with such complicated circumstances:
- Use medicine, take potions which can help you; fumigate house, yard and street; shun persons and places wherever your neighbour does not need your presence or has recovered, and act like a man who wants to help put out a burning city. What else is the epidemic but a fire which instead of consuming wood and straw devours life and body?
Luther did not limit tending the sick to health care professionals; he challenged Christians to see opportunities to tend to the sick, as tending to Christ Himself:
Matthew 25:35-36a – For I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me. (NKJV)
However, during the epidemic, he did not encourage his readers to expose themselves to danger. His letter constantly straddled two competing goods, honouring the sanctity of one's own life and also of those in need. He emphasized that we are all part of the body of Christ:
1 Corinthians 12:21-22 – And the eye cannot say to the hand, "I have no need of you"; nor again the head to the feet, "I have no need of you." No, much rather, those members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary. (NKJV)
Luther's advice about loving one's community by avoiding going out, balanced against serving those who are sick, is just as pertinent during the coronavirus pandemic of this year. In particular, his closing comments are strangely applicable:
- In closing, we admonish and plead with you in Christ's name to help us with your prayers to God so that we may do battle with word and precept against the real and spiritual pestilence of Satan in his wickedness with which he now poisons the world.
Prayer: Our Father in heaven, during times of crisis in our lives, whether physical, personal, or spiritual, we ask that we will always seek Your guidance. We ask it in Jesus' name. Amen.
Listen to this devotional
Listen while you read: "Lord Of All Being Throned Afar" (Lyrics)