During my preparations and studies for Sunday’s sermon and service, I searched Luther’s Works for what Luther observed from the appointed Gospel reading of Matthew 25:14-30. In so doing I found this wonderful commentary:
16 Be not righteous over much; neither make thyself over wise: why shouldest thou destroyg thyself? 17 Be not over much wicked, neither be thou foolish: why shouldest thou die before thy time? 18 It is good that thou shouldest take hold of this; yea, also from this withdraw not thine hand: for he that feareth God shall come forth of them all.
That is, forget about the highest law; measure yourself by your own foot and sing, “Know thyself.”28 Then you will find in your own breast a lengthy catalog of vices, and you will say: “Look, I myself am still unrighteous, and yet I am tolerated by God and am not banished by people. Then why am I so carried away with fury that I harshly require of others what I do not achieve myself?” This is what it means to be “righteous overmuch.” The things of this world cannot bear it. Therefore observe the laws by teaching and preaching, and give thanks to God when your household or your audience acknowledge that the laws and teachings are holy and just, even though they do not observe everything as it is prescribed. In this way you will be truly holy and wise. You will be “overwise” and “righteous overmuch” if in your administration either of public or of private affairs you have good laws but insist on them and want them to be observed in such a way that there is not one iota of transgression. For this is what it means that “the highest law brings the deepest injustice.” A prudent public official or head of a household ought to make a distinction between the goodness of the law and the obedience of his subordinates. It is better to bear with and to endure a moderate amount of rebellion than to let the entire state perish. This is what usually happens to the rigid enforcers of laws. Therefore laws should be enforced and insisted upon as far as the situation allows, but no further. This is also what physicians do. They do not diagnose and cure diseases only on the basis of books or of what is prescribed but are often obliged to make adjustments in keeping with the state of the body. Thus also the minds of men are influenced in the most diverse possible ways, so that it is often necessary to modify the laws themselves. This calls for extremely wise men, of whom there are few in the world. Therefore all those chosen as heads of households or as public officials should be men like David, Abraham, Solomon, and Joshua, if they were available, men who could administer the laws properly. For this is how important it is to administer the state well.
This is the second part of the conclusion. See to it that just as you are not righteous overmuch, you are not wicked overmuch either. That is, do not despise and neglect all the duties of government committed to your charge, and do not permit everything to fall apart. It is good to overlook some things, but not to neglect all things. If wisdom does not succeed, that is no reason to go crazy with anger and revenge. Finally, do not give in to idleness, so that you do not want to care about anything. Do not behave like that wicked servant who buried his talent and did not want to trade with it at all (Matt. 25:24–30). Well then, be just and let others be just with you; demand uprightness; persevere, regardless of the outcome. Why? “Why should you destroy yourself, or die before your time?” There is reason to fear that He may come suddenly and call you to judgment, as He took away the soul of the rich man at night when the rich man was not thinking about it (Luke 12:20). If this life were heavenly and angelic, nothing would happen unjustly; but our sinful nature cannot do anything but sin and be foolish. Anyone who does not know this has not yet learned about the world. We should think that here we are as though we were in a shipwreck or a fire, where one must labor to snatch at least some brand from the fire when one cannot control or extinguish the whole fire. Therefore if you are in a household, be content to snatch even one person from the public fire of wicked people. If you are a teacher of children, labor to educate at least one of them and to bring him up properly. If you are a preacher of the Gospel, do not preach as though you could gain all men for Christ, for not all heed the Gospel (cf. Rom. 10:16); but if you convert three or four souls and lead them to Christ, like the tips of burning brands (cf. Amos 4:11), give thanks. For one should not quit simply because so few are changed for the better to hear the preaching of the Gospel. But do what Christ did: He rescued the elect and left the rest behind. This is what the apostles did also. It will not be better for you. You are foolish if you either presume that you alone can accomplish everything or despair of everything when it does not go your way.
Christ makes a similar statement in Matt. 23:23 when He says: “These you ought to have done without neglecting the others.” Thus here, too, he demands both: justice and yet not the highest justice, so that you are neither too remiss nor too exacting. Sometimes you must overlook the laws and judge as though you were wicked, and sometimes you must take hold of the laws and become just once more. But remember, as has also been said earlier, that he is here speaking not of personal righteousness but of communal or political justice, not of righteousness before God but of justice in governing others and before the world. For in personal righteousness there cannot be too much righteousness.
He who fears God shall come forth from them all.
That is, the fear of the Lord will easily judge both. If I fear the Lord, my heart says: “I have often lived this way, and I still live shamefully. Therefore I will have compassion on those delinquents. If I can restrain them by moderating my discipline, I will do so. If not, I will let them continue until they collide with the law of the sword. If they escape all of this, they still will not escape the judgment of God.” Thus he who fears God proceeds correctly in these matters; when he sees that he cannot prevail, he calls upon the Lord. Therefore do your duty, warn, exhort, and never stop. He who does not hear you will bring on his own punishment, even though not through your punishing him; for there is One who will punish. This is what happened recently to our peasants. When they did not accept our rebuke, they were thoroughly punished by others.29 30
gdestroy...: Heb. be desolate?
28 This injunction, quoted here in Greek, was attributed to Thales of Miletus.
29 Once again, as on p. 90 above, a reference to the Peasants’ War of 1525
30 Luther, M. (1999, c1972). Vol. 15: Luther's works, vol. 15 : Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon, Last Words of David, 2 Samuel 23:1-7 (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald & H. T. Lehmann, Ed.). Luther's Works (15:122). Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House.
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