I’m reading an autobiography of Martin Luther by an author with an economical first and last name, Martin Marty. For those who don’t know, Luther is the founding father of the Lutheran Church. But before all that he was a German monk who on a good day could be described as grumpy. Luther was not happy… with anything. He certainly didn’t like where he was living, describing the town of Wittenberg as, “small, poor, ugly, stinking, hideous, wretched, unhealthy, smoky, full of slop, but enough about the beer.”
His disposition didn’t change on a trip to Rome. Filled with little awe, he instead expressed shock at the chaos on the streets with the practices of the locals who urinated in public and openly patronized prostitutes. On his first day he was heard asking, “What is this, Daytona Beach?”
As far as Luther was concerned, his four weeks in Rome could not come to a quicker conclusion. “Mad, foolish, raging, insane, fools, sticks, stones, hell and evil, farewell unhappy, hopeless, blasphemous Rome,” is what he wrote on most of his postcards.
Luther’s laundry list of complaints did not end there. He felt the local soccer club wasn’t living up to its potential. He didn’t like cold cuts. He wasn’t a big fan of Tuesday. He was constantly afflicted with bad gas and indigestion. But more than anything else he was piqued with dread when it came to his relationship with God. Since Luther had so many problems with day-to-day living, he had to believe God had to be more upset… really upset… hot under the collar mad. He was so locked into an irate God he actually said, “Every good work is a sin.” To Luther a good deed could be a seen as an act to curry God’s favor and nobody likes a brownnoser.
Luther felt that God kept a suspicious eye on every human act and the only way to keep clear of God’s fury was to constantly confess. Luther sometimes spent six hours confessing to his mentor, Vicar General Johannes von Staupitz. No offense was too minor. No slight would be missed. When Luther confessed, he laid it all on the line. Here is a short excerpt:
LUTHER: Then there was the time I lied to Farmer Meyer.
STAUPITZ: How so?
LUTHER: He asked me what I thought of his prized pig.
STAUPITZ: What did you say?
LUTHER: I told him I never saw a more loathsome animal.
STAUPITZ: Was it?
LUTHER: Quite the opposite. It was glorious.
STAUPITZ: Then why lie?
LUTHER: I didn’t want him to get a big head. I didn’t want to shower praise on a beast of burden. I did not want to feel like a fair official. What next? Lambs? Pies? Where does the judging end? Still, I did not like the fact that Farmer Meyer put me in a situation where I had to lie.
STAUPITZ: An interesting quandary. Do you mind if I pour myself a drink?
LUTHER: Oh, don’t get me started on this town’s beer.
STAUPITZ: Oh, feel free to continue. I’m going to run downstairs to make myself a sandwich.
LUTHER: Sandwich! Just hearing the English name turns my tongue to sandpaper.