Church reformer Martin Luther died in the year 1546 at age 62. Beside his deathbed was a desk that had a piece of paper with writing on it. There were just over 100 words written, the last being, “We are beggars, that is true.” What does this mean?
The clues to his final written words were found in what preceded them; Luther talked about the classical writings of Virgil (on farming and agriculture) and Cicero (on governance). He stated that one can’t have a full understanding of Vergil’s works unless they have farmed for five years. Also, that one cannot fully understand Cicero’s works unless they have governed for 20 years.
There was a third example. Luther stated: “Let nobody suppose that he has tasted the Holy Scriptures sufficiently unless he has ruled over the churches with the prophets for a hundred years.”
The point he was making was this: there was simply no earthly way to accomplish this. Yes, some people live to be over 100 years, this is true. However, they do not find their calling in life on day one, and certainly will not having the kind of assistance that was noted.
In this earthly lifetime, we will never be able to fully understand every aspect of the Holy Scriptures, or the mind of God. So, we all lack in this regard. We cannot achieve this on our own merit. The will of God is something we cannot fully understand in our vessels of flesh and bone.
You may find it surprising to hear that I believe this is good news. Why is this so? It is because none of us can stand before God and boast that we are masters of knowledge and how things operate. All of us are lacking. We are beggars. All of us are fully dependent upon God’s grace and forgiveness as well – you and me and the whole world. We are on equal footing.
So, being a beggar isn’t such a bad thing, if understood in this way.
When I pray, sometimes I have my hands together, with the ends of my fingers touching. There are other times, however, that I pray with open hands that are upturned and apart. This is a way of reminding myself that all things are given to me by God, and that I am a beggar among beggars.
All of us are fully dependent upon God.
Walter is pastor of Immanuel Lutheran Church and has served as parish pastor for 30 years.