Near the end of Martin Luther’s it has been told that the last words he wrote, “We are all beggars…” An African pastor has extended these famous words, “We are just all just one beggar telling another where the food is.” These words are a poignant understanding of the Christian faith. God does not look at our name, our standing in society, the way we look, the way we are dressed, or even the amount that we give. God looks at our hearts. It is so antithetical to our world. How do we know the hearts of another? We don’t so we leave that to God. We cannot know where a person’s heart lies so we are not meant to judge. The Sunday reading from Isaiah 35:4-7a points us to the providence of God. God is the One that heals. The power of God is that which builds us up and gives us the strength to carry on. We receive even greater than that we receive sight, we receive hearing, ultimately we receive understanding.
James 2:1-10, 14-18 calls into question the eyes with which we look upon others. We see people externally, but we can not see the heart of another. This is what God sees. Often we can become caught up in the way someone dresses, that makes good decisions, and are financially successful and we often place them in places of honor. James criticizes this mentality as we should as Christians. I have known and been betrayed by those that feel that their status deserves a greater level of respect than another. I have been judged by those that saw me as “less than” they feel that they are. Jesus knew this also as we look at Mark 7:24-37. At the beginning of these verses, we read about how Jesus goes to have a secret meal. Probably invited by another and wanting to get away from the crowd and have a peaceful meal was the mindset, but a woman had a daughter that was possessed by a demon and she was seeking help. This woman heard about Jesus as a teacher and healer so she sought him out and found him. Now she comes asking. Not only was this an interruption, but she was not a Jew but she was a Gentile, a Syrophoenician to be exact. She was not someone a good Jew would want in his home much less when a special guest, a Jewish Rabbi, was in the home. The people at this dinner, it can be easily assumed, looked down upon this woman and when her request comes Jesus responds with words that could only be reflecting the feelings of those with him by comparing this woman’s request to that of a dog begging at the dinner table. I am certain that there was no guile in his statement but, being God, Jesus knew this woman’s faith and the response she would give in humility. This woman put her pride aside for the sake of her daughter and because of her faith, she received what she was seeking, the healing of her daughter.
When we look down on another we are guilty of the sin that Jesus revealed and James speaks against. We are not to think of ourselves as ones that deserve grace, but as children that are receiving grace from our Father in Heaven. He does not owe us forgiveness or grace no matter how much we do or how much we give, but he gives it to us out of His divine grace and mercy. Another aspect of James that is difficult for many is the call that seems to demand faith and works. There are many Lutherans who struggle with this and many misunderstand our Lutheran faith by thinking we are against works. That is not true. As Lutherans, we are in line with Christian thinking and know of the importance of works, but we, also, understand that no matter how much we do there is no work that can save us because that was done for us already through Jesus Christ on the Cross. Works are a natural response of faith. It is a powerful reality that we do works because that is what faith drives us to do. It doesn’t help our brother or sister in Christ that is hungry and suffering to simply offer pray, but we are called in faith to provide what we are able to provide to those in need. When we think of what James is speaking about we can look to the next portion of the reading from Mark where people bring this man who was deaf and mute and Jesus is very tactile in the healing. Jesus puts his fingers in the man’s ears and spits and touches the man’s tongue saying the word, “Ephaphtha,” which Scripture reveals means “Be Open.” Jesus opens this man’s ears and loosens his tongue so he can hear and can speak. The same is true for each and every one of us.
With a word our Lord opens our ears that we can hear his words and he loosens our tongues that we can proclaim His truth. That is the power and truth of the faith. We seem to often lose sight of this reality. As we are gifted with the power to hear the Word and trust what Jesus says as well as our tongues loosened to proclaim His Truth we are called to remember that we are all beggars. We come with nothing to offer but our Lord gives us everything. We do not deserve anything, but He gives abundantly. That is the power of these words. Remembering that we are nothing but beggars reminds us that we only have one Word to offer to our Lord and that is “Thanks!” Why don’t we give thanks as we should? We have forgotten and think that we are owed forgiveness. God owes us nothing. We owe God. We are, as an African Lutheran Pastor once said, “one beggar telling another beggar where the food is.” That is all we are. Humbly let us remember this and let our tongues be loosed to proclaim our God’s praise to all with whom we have the opportunity to share. When we see something that needs to be done and we cry out, “I wish someone would do something.” Remember that that someone may just be you. Be a beggar for the food that only satisfies and the waters that truly give life. We are all but beggars, that is our state and we can find that in our begging we find our place next to the king. Amen.