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The Seventeenth Sunday After Pentecost C – October 2, 2022

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The Seventeenth Sunday After Pentecost C – October 2, 2022

This verse figured prominently in the theological battles over the place of works in the scheme of salvation among the 16th century reformers.  Works, it was contended, merely accomplish a duty assigned to servants or slaves.  Accomplishing a duty deserves no reward, it merely fulfills an assignment.  Works, then, are unworthy of being rewarded—that is, of receiving salvation for fulfilling a duty.  Pitted against this verse regarding unworthy servants was one which commended servants for their behavior, “Well done, good and faithful slave… …enter into the joy of your master” (cf. Mt. 25:21 & 23; Lk. 19:17).  Here, the commended servants have succeeded in increasing their master’s wealth, which was the duty given them.  Yet, these servants receive a reward for the fulfillment of their duty.

In one of the disputes necessitating the Formula of Concord, two theologians argued over this point*.  One named Poach held to the “unworthy servants” side and another named Mörlin held to the “good and faithful” side. Mörlin agreed with the thesis, ““Good works are necessary for salvation abstractly and ideally,” a decision of the Eisenach synod which a majority of Lutherans supported.  This thesis eventually became the basis for Article Six of the Formula, the article on the third use of the law.  On the other hand, Poach brought to bear the authority of Luther in his critique of merit as the scholastic theologians of his day conceived it.  Luther’s critique came from the “unworthy servants” side which held that merit was not earned by fulfilling the law, for the servant, in doing so, merely performed a duty to the Creator.  Poach argued that the work of Christ was something “above and apart” from the law.

These historic arguments bring clarification to the issues of today.  If salvation is solely within the law, then Jesus’ work merely makes up for the human inability to be obedient.  Yet, if Christ’s work is “above and apart” from the law, then our sin must be greater than mere disobedience.  It is the pride and the despair of unbelief (cf. Ro. 14:23b).

Table Talk:  Discuss the importance of knowing history.
Pray:  Heavenly Father make known to me the depths of my sin that I would know the heights of my salvation.  Amen

*See Lauri Haikola in “Usus Legis” part II, chapter 5

Luke 17:1-10 English Standard Version

 And he said to his disciples, “Temptations to sin are sure to come, but woe to the one through whom they come! 2 It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were cast into the sea than that he should cause one of these little ones to sin. 3 Pay attention to yourselves! If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him, 4 and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.”

5 The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” 6 And the Lord said, “If you had faith like a grain of mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.

7 “Will any one of you who has a servant plowing or keeping sheep say to him when he has come in from the field, ‘Come at once and recline at table’? 8 Will he not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, and dress properly, and serve me while I eat and drink, and afterward you will eat and drink’? 9 Does he thank the servant because he did what was commanded? 10 So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’”