the swine flu and you

Here’s hoping it doesn’t come to this, but Martin Luther offers some timely advice in his open letter, Whether One May Flee From a Deadly Plague.  The Bubonic Plague came to Wittenberg in 1527, and Luther responded by closing the university and sending his students home. 


When concerned citizens asked how Christians should act during this epidemic, Luther said that faith in Christ does not provide special protection from getting sick and that those who could should leave the city.  However, pastors, doctors, government officials, and any family member responsible for an ill person must stay and care for the sick. 


In an effort to encourage people to stay and do their duty, Luther said that caring for the victims of the plague is tantamount to caring for Christ.  He wrote:


“This I well know, that if it were Christ or his mother who were laid low by illness, everybody would be so solicitous and would gladly become a servant or helper.  Everyone would want to be bold and fearless; nobody would flee but everyone would come running.  And yet they don’t hear what Christ himself says, ‘As you did to one of the least, you did it to me’ (Matt. 25:40).”


…“If you wish to serve Christ and to wait on him, very well, you have your sick neighbor close at hand.  Go to him and serve him, and you will surely find Christ in him, not outwardly but in his word.  If you do not wish to care to serve your neighbor you can be sure that if Christ lay there instead you would not do so either and would let him lie there.  Those are nothing but illusions on your part which puff you up with vain pride, namely, that you would really serve Christ if he were there in person.  Those are nothing but lies; whoever wants to serve Christ in person would surely serve his neighbor as well.” 


 Read the entire piece in Timothy F. Lull, ed., Martin Luther’s Basic Theological Writings, 2nd ed.  (Minneapolis:  Fortress Press, 2005), 479-91.







4 responses to “the swine flu and you”

  1. eph5v2

    As a pastor, I have been thinking about this issue again this week. If I was single, I would have no problem with Luther’s take, but I wonder how it relates with my responsibility to take care of my family….

  2. I think Luther would draw from his Roman Catholic training and conclude that your service to God as an ordained minister was higher than your duties as a husband and father. He would probably advise you to send your family away to safety but to remain behind yourself to continue your ministry. There is an idea of sacrifice and commitment inherent to the traditional concept of ministry as calling that seems to be lacking in the contemporary notion of ministry as a profession. I’ll leave it to those of you who wear the cloth to determine whether this is a good thing or not.

  3. […] Wittmer shows that this same attitude persisted over a thousand years later in Luther’s […]

  4. […] Wittmer shows that this same attitude persisted over a thousand years later in Luther’s […]

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