What Luther teaches us about the Fifth Commandment and Coronavirus

Today’s article comes from Christianity Today and can be found here. The article is titled:

Is It Faithful to Flee an Epidemic? What Martin Luther Teaches Us About Coronavirus

Written by EMMY YANG

There are plenty of reasons to be cautious during an outbreak, even during cold and flu season. It’s always beneficial to wash your hands many times a day. Yet, how far is too far? What I mean is when does being cautious end and fear take over? There is a very fine balance between the two. No one wants to be sick but when does our fear of being sick cause us to withdraw from loving others?

But are followers of Jesus right to flee an epidemic when people are suffering and dying?

‘Is It Faithful to Flee an Epidemic? What Martin Luther Teaches Us About Coronavirus’
Written by EMMY YANG

In 1527, less than 200 years after the Black Death killed about half the population of Europe, the plague re-emerged in Luther’s own town of Wittenberg and neighboring cities. In his letter “Whether One May Flee from a Deadly Plague,” the famous reformer weighs the responsibilities of ordinary citizens during contagion. His advice serves as a practical guide for Christians confronting infectious disease outbreaks today.

‘Is It Faithful to Flee an Epidemic? What Martin Luther Teaches Us About Coronavirus’
Written by EMMY YANG

It is interesting at how far people can let their fear of being sick over take them. At least twice a year it is brought up that people don’t want to use the chalice at the Eucharist because they are worried of catching something. Now, after discussing the science of how the purificator is used to wipe the chalice, and that silver and gold have antimicrobial characteristics that don’t hold viruses well and that on top of all of that bacteria can’t survive long with the alcohol; and repeat. I follow this with giving them the following advice. You have more of a chance of catching a virus from not washing your hands than you do from the precious blood of Christ.

“no documented transmission of any infectious disease has ever been traced to the use of a common communion cup”…”the risk for infectious disease transmission by a common communion cup is very low, and appropriate safeguards–that is, wiping the interior and exterior rim between communicants, use of care to rotate the cloth during use, and use of a clean cloth for each service – would further diminish this risk.”

American Journal of Infection Control (Vol. 26, No. 5, 1998).

As I said above you have more of a chance of catching something by not washing your hands than from the precious blood of Christ. Do not let your fear of catching something keep you from the common cup of the Holy Eucharist.

The Fourth Commandment

First, Luther argued that anyone who stands in a relationship of service to another has a vocational commitment not to flee. Those in ministry, he wrote, “must remain steadfast before the peril of death.” The sick and dying need a good shepherd who will strengthen and comfort them and administer the sacraments—lest they be denied the Eucharist before their passing. Public officials, including mayors and judges, are to stay and maintain civic order. Public servants, including city-sponsored physicians and police officers, must continue their professional duties. Even parents and guardians have vocational duties toward their children.

‘Is It Faithful to Flee an Epidemic? What Martin Luther Teaches Us About Coronavirus’
Written by EMMY YANG

When someone is sick it can be harder for some than others to stay and help rather than to flee. Some of us can be so quick to leave that job to someone else. After all those who are called to serve must serve and do their duty. This includes parents for children and that should go without saying. Yet, what about the rest? What about those who can help and are able to help?

The Fifth Commandment

Lay citizens, without any medical training, may find themselves in a position of providing care to the sick. Luther challenges Christians to see opportunities to tend to the sick as tending to Christ himself (Matt. 25:41–46). Out of love for God emerges the practice of love for neighbor.

‘Is It Faithful to Flee an Epidemic? What Martin Luther Teaches Us About Coronavirus’
Written by EMMY YANG

“When did we see you sick?” ask the righteous in the parable of the sheep and the goats, to which Jesus responds, “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me”

Matthew 25: 39-40

To those who are able to help and give care to those in need, then help and give care. Why is it that someone should suffer alone without any help? This is simply a matter of love. There are many excuses we can give ourselves that helping the sick is for someone else. We can claim we don’t have time, money, resources, or already have enough on our plates. Yet, what if you were the one that is sick, would you be as strong as saying those same excuses for those who refuse to help you? Who would be so understanding that though they lie there suffering with no one to help them, that they would give such strong affirmation’s to those who carry on about thier business.

This is nothing but selfishness. What if you lay there on the side of the road dying while everyone else had their excuses to carry on and ignore you and your suffering? It’s much different now isn’t it. That’s what loving others as yourself means. Trust in God to give you what you need to help those in need and have no such large fear for yourself. Okay, you might say, should I just trust God and have no care for myself?

But Luther does not encourage his readers to expose themselves recklessly to danger. His letter constantly straddles two competing goods: honoring the sanctity of one’s own life, and honoring the sanctity of those in need. Luther makes it clear that God gives humans a tendency toward self-protection and trusts that they will take care of their bodies (Eph. 5:29; 1 Cor. 12:21–26). He defends public health measures such as quarantines and seeking medical attention when available. In fact, Luther proposes that not to do so is to act recklessly. Just as God has gifted humans with their bodies, so too he has gifted the medicines of the earth.

‘Is It Faithful to Flee an Epidemic? What Martin Luther Teaches Us About Coronavirus’
Written by EMMY YANG

As you see it’s a mixture of both not caring so much about your own fears of being sick and giving more love for your neighbor. In such balance, give, love, and trust in God above all things. Wash your hands, take care of yourself, but if you can help someone who is in phsycial need then do not murder them by passing them by. Help them in their phsycial needs in keeping with the fifth commandment.

That’s what it really is, a balance of love of self with love of others. The fifth commandment tells us not to murder or harm our neighbors bodies, to help them when we see them lacking in bodily needs and not to turn a hard heart towards them in hatred. We are to love them and help support them in their health needs, not out of compulsion, but freely out of love. Not under the Law but out the freedom of the Gospel.

You are Free to Love your Neighbor

Notably, Luther also reminds readers that salvation is independent of these good works. He ultimately tasks them to decide whether to flee or to stay during plagues, trusting that they will arrive at a faithful decision through prayer and meditation on the Scriptures. Participation in aiding the sick arises out of grace, not obligation.

‘Is It Faithful to Flee an Epidemic? What Martin Luther Teaches Us About Coronavirus’
Written by EMMY YANG

This life is not your last. You have eternal life as a gift given by the cost of God taking on flesh and bone, living a sinless life for you, fulfilling the Laws demands, and taking your punishment by being, whipped, and nailed to the cross, to die. All of your sins, all of them, swallowed up in Christ’s death on the cross.

He rose from the dead three days later. He is the propitiation for your sin. Your sins are not only forgiven, they are separated from you and left in the grave. You are now clothed with the Righteousness of God! His perfect life, His fulfillment of the Law is now credited to you by the gift of faith!

You are free. Free to love, Free to serve, Free in the Blood of Christ. How great is the Father’s love for us that though we were dead in tresspasses and sins, He gave, He showed His love with Christ on the cross bearing your sins and your punishment, so that you can be free. May the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. With your sins forgiven, go in peace.

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