45. Christians should be taught that he who sees a needy person, but passes him by although he gives money for indulgences, gains no benefit from the pope's pardon, but only incurs the wrath of God.

Yesterday marks 467 years to the day since Martin Luther became one of the anxious members of the cloud of witnesses Christians believe are cheering us on as we live this life out. During his life, he was instrumental in redeeming the divide between clergy and laity, eliminating the monopoly that Catholic priests seem to have on interpreting the Bible, and empowering regular ol’ Christians towards doing real work and making real change in the real world.

Part of this change occurred the moment he posted his 95 theses on the door of the Wittenburg Castle church. In that declaration of what he felt were failings of the Catholic church, Luther was scarred as an enemy of the Pope.

The stated intention of the theses was to dispute the practice of indulgences, a practice that allowed members of the church to purchase forgiveness, in one way of speaking (for more on the practice of indulgences, check out this link).

But the deeper, more lasting impact that the theses had was to return the thinking of believers to the original focus Jesus intended as the church was birthed…including the repentance of sin and the full power faith truly has in our lives. It also paved the way for the removal of priests as the earthly mediators between God and man.

In looking through the theses today, it is clear that Luther tapped in to the root of humanity’s broken relationship with God…a root that Jesus openly revealed, specifically in His interactions with the Pharisees, those “religious” leaders that knew the law on paper but not what it was meant to cause at an emotional, life-changing level.

The 45th thesis speaks to this discrepancy probably more than any other. It is written like this:

45. Christians should be taught that he who sees a needy person, but passes him by although he gives money for indulgences, gains no benefit from the pope's pardon, but only incurs the wrath of God.

On a surface level, it seems to speak towards indulgences not working if bought in exchange for helping someone in need. But at a heart level, it speaks to the human tendency of selfishness, the innate disposition that causes us to sometimes disregard the needs around us if we feel in need.

It speaks directly to that same part of who we are as humans that Jesus speaks to in His parable of the good Samaritan. In it, a man lies broken, beaten, and dying on the side of the road…and is passed by several “religious” people that ignore him because they are too concerned with their own salvation.

God’s Kingdom is a kingdom of service, selflessness, and humility. And, though it seems paradoxical, it is a Kingdom in which everyone is content, joyful, and have their needs met. The added benefit is that, since everyone is concerned with the needs of others, not only are we guaranteed to be taken care of…we get the joy that only comes in giving of ourselves to others.

So when we look back on Martin Luther’s life, and think about the deeper impact he had on the direction the Church took in its growth, we must be sure and thank God that his discernment allowed us to return to a more selfless way of thinking…and not miss the opportunity this provides us.