Meyer’s Musings from Confinement, Part I
REV. PHILIP MEYER, PASTOR EMERITUS
A column by Itxu Diaz, a Spanish journalist, caught my attention. He said that the coronavirus is forcing Europe to rediscover civil society. He told about Andre Muswieck, a German fireman in Bergen auf Rügen, outside Berlin. German Chancellor Angela Merkel wanted to know what he considered his greatest contribution to society, so she called him. He evidently thought it was some sort of prank call and responded rather profanely to the Chancellor. I won’t repeat what he said, but he let her know in no uncertain terms that he didn’t entertain “radio jokes.” Not deterred, she called back. After convincing him that she was indeed Chancellor Merkel, he said he was just doing his job.
In another instance from Germany a driver of the 110 bus in Berlin was also interviewed because he’s exposed to the virus all day every day. Passengers applaud him. Diaz points out that up until now nobody even said “Guten Tag” to him as they boarded his bus.
We like heroes. After 9-11 it was first responders [Muswieck is one of those] were honored in our nation. And the military. Today we are told to honor the medical people caring for the virus victims as well as the Army Corps of Engineers who set up mobile hospitals. And politicians will blow their own horns and argue about who has done more “for the people.”
This is all well and good. It should be what we do all the time. But the unpolished gem here is that Diaz has unwittingly discovered Luther’s Doctrine of Vocation. In Luther’s day the Roman Church had said that Holy Orders were of a higher status and that the clergy were valued more than the lay people because of what they did. Luther poked big holes in that! Faith stands above all vocations, he said. It matters not how lowly the job may be, that a Christian who serves in his Stand [station] in life fulfills the law of love to the neighbor. That is summarized in the Table of Duties which we recite in the Family Catechetical Time in the Divine Service. See also the Fifth Commandment and the Fourth Petition of the Our Father.
Luther’s point is that no matter how humble the service—driving a bus or the garbage truck, changing the diapers of an elderly person in the nursing home, or making face masks in one’s home—nothing is inferior in God’s eyes. Doing one’s vocation is the act of holy living when it is done in faith. For most people it’s rather mundane [mundane—of this earthly world rather than a heavenly one, according to dictionary usage]. Luther wrote that the Christian shoemaker does not exercise his Christian faith by sewing crosses on his shoes; he does it by making the very best shoes he is able to make.
We are always bound by our relationship to our neighbor. How can I help him through my vocation as neighbor? Here’s Luther:
“To use a rough example: If you are a draftsman you will find the Bible placed in your workshop, in your hands, in your heart; it teaches and preaches how you ought to treat your neighbor. Only look at your tools, your needle, your thimble, your beer barrel, your articles of trade, your scales, your measures, and you will find this saying written on them . . .’My dear, use me toward your neighbor as you would want him to act toward you with that which is his.'” (WA 32, 495-496 The Sermon on the Mount, 1532)
Diaz sums up:
The national role model is a normal guy. He works in a hospital, drives a bus, delivers fruit to the supermarket, or supervises a power plant. He isn’t aware that he’s saving humanity with his work. He isn’t trying to raise awareness. He isn’t trying to do anything more than his duty, but will die doing it if necessary. Nor does he expect state honors. He’s content to be paid at the end of the month, if possible.
The cure for this crisis is clear: Each individual must act as if the state did not exist, and each state must act as if individual initiatives didn’t. And then, everyone pray.
Diaz isn’t speaking something new. He’s actually discovered something old, the teaching of Luther. Those who are able to go about their work these days—if they haven’t been furloughed!—is to do what you usually do in making a living. However, the vocation of neighbor still applies, whether you are still working and/or getting paid.
Sometimes there really is good news in a crisis!