Martin Luther’s last written words, found on a scrap in his pocket, were, “This is true. We are all beggars.” While he could offer no insight into his exact meaning, a lifetime of teaching and preaching the gospel holds some clues. Luther was absolutely committed to the belief that we all live by God’s grace. We neither earn nor deserve anything we have. So, in the end, like beggars on the street, we are all dependent upon what the most generous benefactor plops in our hats.
This is a heresy in a world where we all think that the person with the most stuff at death wins; where accumulating fame, wealth, success, titles and other honors seems to win the day. Donald Trump seems to believe that he earned and deserves what he possesses. “Mine” is among the first words a child learns. But the toy, the ball, the bit of food all came through grace. A gift from a parent or adult willing to share.
Even if you don’t believe in any god, you still have to note that it is through more variables, intangibles and eruptions of chance that you have anything. For the Christian, the source is not chance, but a gracious God, revealed by a dead man on a cross giving away love — for free.
I’m reading some writings by John Chrysostom, one of the greatest preachers of the Christian faith. His surname means “golden mouthed.” He was bishop of Constantinople in the late 4th century. His words to the 4th century world ring loudly in an age beset by a deepening divide between rich and poor:
“The rich usually imagine that, if they do not physically rob the poor, they are committing no sin… The rich person who keeps all his wealth for himself is committing a form of robbery…The rich may claim that they own many fields in which fruits and grains grow; but it is God who causes seeds to sprout and mature. The duty of the rich is to share the harvest of their fields with all who work in them and all in need.” (“On Living Simply”, by John Chrysostom, ed. Robert Van de Weyer, 1996, Ligouri Publications).
Being a beggar is not a bad thing. As long as the benefactor is generous and faithful you’ll receive more than you need. Chrysostom knew it. Luther knew it. Jesus revealed it.