In the course of a woman’s life, she will have many mentors. Katie Luther is one of my mine. In fact, she is the primary reason this blog has become largely inactive. Accounts of her industry and productivity challenged me to talk less and do more. Katie’s famous, “I’ve read enough, I’ve heard enough, I know enough. Would to God I lived it” fell on me hard. Luther’s own Morningstar of Wittenberg is the reason I wake up at 4 o’clock in the morning! I’m not ashamed to say it: I wanna be like Katie! 🙂 Katie Luther was a woman who was more concerned with living out the faith than she was talking about it.
With recent global/national events being what they are, I’ve been thinking a lot about her. What would she be doing? What would her priorities be? How would she be expressing her faith? Katie was a busy woman. She oversaw the entire parsonage operation and made the Luther home what it was – a safe house for many. And during the plague, that parsonage was converted into a hospital and at their own risk, the Luther’s cared for the afflicted.
The nature of today’s epidemic is, thankfully, not as bad as the ones that Katie lived through – at least not yet – however, the call to quietly and humbly submit to God’s providence, to trust in his goodness, and love our neighbor is just as relevant. Of course, most of what we know about her is gathered from her husband’s letters. So, today I’m sharing certain excerpts of those letters that are cited in one of my favorite Katie Luther biographies, “A Reformation Life: Katharina Von Bora” by Rudolf and Marilynn Markwald.
“When the plague hit Wittenburg, the worst part of the disease was the fear it engendered. People ran from each other, as well as from the pestilence. Many fled the city during the epidemic but Katie remained. According to contemporary reports, her deep faith in Christ and her personal courage sustained her. Neither Katie nor Martin were afraid of the plague, and when people fell ill to the epidemic, the Luthers turned Lutherhaus into a hospital. After Sebald Musterer’s wife died and her husband became seriously ill, Kate took their four children, who also were sick, into Lutherhaus. What motivated the Luthers to do this? In “Whether One May Flee from a Deadly Plague,” Luther wrote:
First one has to submit quietly to God, trusting in His love and goodness. Then staying put and not fleeing from the plague or any disaster is to be praised because it is a sign of a strong faith. But a person needs more than milchglauben [infantile faith] for that . . . It is required (1 Corinthians 12:12ff) that everyone take care of his body and not abuse it by being dummkeck [showing off one’s courage] . . . If no one is available to take care of a sick neighbor, he should never be abandoned, and Matthew 25:34ff. teaches that all Christians are linked together so we cannot desert anyone in need but are duty-bound to help him or her in the same way as we would want this person to help us in our exigencies . . . If a city or country has a hospital, that is fine and good. But if not, then people’s residences have to become infirmities, and by God’s grace, each neighbor must become a caregiver and nurse for the suffering ones.
Luther added one more spiritual dimension to his position regarding the plague when he said,
We shall discover that God thereby tests our faith and our love – our faith so we may know how we stand in relationship with God and our love so we may learn just what is our relationship to our neighbor.
In closing, Luther encouraged the faithful with these words:
We must say to the devil, “Get out of my way with your scaring! In defiance of you I will help my sick neighbor knowing that it is pleasing to God and all His angels. Since Christ has shed His blood for me and died for me, how can I not, for His sake, place myself into this small danger of a powerless pestilence?” Say, “Satan, if you frighten me, Christ will give me courage; and if you have poison in your mouth, Christ has more than enough remedies to heal me.
In his 1539 sermon on the same subject, Luther said,
We did not flee . . . I am your preacher and visitor of the sick, and Katie is the nurse, doctor, pharmacist, counselor, etc. God has protected Kate and me and our whole family from two plagues. We have been blessed in this city in good days, why should we leave when suffering strikes.
This was Martin and Katharina Luther’s faithful commitment to serving not only each other but all who were in need.”
Again, the nature of today’s crisis does not rise to the one that Martin and Katie faced. But Katie’s faith in Christ and love for her neighbor are encouraging me today. May they encourage you, too!
“Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised.” Proverbs 31:30
Markwald, Rudolf K. and Marilynn Morris, A Reformation Life: Katharina Von Bora. Concordia Publishing House, 1919, St. Louis, pages 165-167.