Martin Luther on neighborliness

Since the arms of the crucified embrace the neighbour, genuinely to live in Christ is always to live in the neighbour as well. Never shallow, Luther insisted we live in the neighbour [in three ways. First,] by sharing her need. This isn’t especially difficult, since we are meeting her scarcity with our abundance. In the second place we live in our neighbour by sharing her suffering. This is considerably more difficult, since proximity to another person’s pain is itself painful for us. At the same time, we may feel rather good about sharing our neighbour’s suffering in that we may feel somewhat heroic, virtuous; we shall likely feel even better if we are recognized and commended for this. In the third place we live in our neighbour by sharing her disgrace. So far from being commended now we find ourselves despised. We are told that we have compromised our standards. We are reminded that you can always tell a person by the company she keeps. Our only comfort here, says Luther, is to continue clinging to him who was himself numbered among the transgressors. He, after all, knew no sin yet was made to be sin in order that we whose sin can never be excused may yet know it forgiven and know ourselves rendered the righteousness of God.

Victor Shepherd, “My Spiritual Debt to Martin Luther,” in The Canadian Lutheran (Oct, 2002).

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