Included in the Small Catechism’s Table of Duties are Bible passages that apply to the different callings that God has given to us in this life. On these Wednesday evenings of Lent we have already reviewed the callings of workers and employers, government and citizens, husbands and wives, parents and children. Tonight we give attention to the special things that the Bible has to say to youth, to widows, and to everyone.
Although these come at the end of the table, they are not meant just as a miscellaneous gathering of whatever is left over. Youth and widows may seem to be polar opposites, but not necessarily so. And having a category that applies to everyone does not mean that these Scripture passages are just for people who don't fit in anywhere else. We have already seen that we occupy more than one place in this Table of Duties. Our Lord God has called us into several different spheres of life as His baptized children. Last week we noted that we may be both parents and children. We are all children of someone. We are all also citizens of some government. The category of “everyone” is not less important, but all the more important because these Bible passages apply universally. No one is exempt. So lets take a few moments tonight to consider what the Bible has to say to youth, to widows, and to everyone.
Everyone is to obey the commandments, and to “Love your neighbour as yourself” (Romans 13:9). But youth and widows will have different opportunities to do so. Everyone is also urged to pray (1 Timothy 2:1), but the things that are laid upon the hearts of youth and widows may vary. They each see their world a little differently. The callings given especially to youth and especially to widows are not really any different than those given to others.
It is truly the case that at different stages in life, different things seem magnified. For example, Martin Luther notes in the Large Catechism that at different times in life, we are plagued with different sins. Young people may be especially tempted by sexual sins, adults may be especially tempted by sins of greed, and the elderly may be especially tempted by sins of despair. That does not mean that we are not tempted by all of these things at all ages, no matter what our callings in life might be.
So God's Word in the Table of Duties speaks especially to youth about pride. In St. Peter's first epistle it is written: “Young men, in the same way be submissive to those who are older” (1 Peter 5:5). That is in the same way that pastors are to be submissive to God, or wives to husbands, or the Church to Christ, or even Christ Jesus to the heavenly Father. We all have those to whom we are to be submissive and that requires humility, not thinking that we are above the other person, but willingly placing ourselves under them out of respect, not only respect for their person, but also out of respect for God who has given us our various callings in life. The following verse makes it clear. “All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because 'God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.' Humble yourselves, therefore, under God's mighty hand, that He may lift you up in due time” (5:5-6).
All of us are to be clothed with humility, but especially does this apply to youth who, because of that specific calling in life, have more people under whom they are to place themselves (those who are older). They are called to see God's mighty hand at work in everyone who is of a greater age (His mighty hand to care for them, to lead them, to guide them, to teach them, to protect them). The time will come soon enough when they are called to do the same for others.
In many ways a widow is not the opposite of a youth, but finds herself placed back with the youth. Rather than obtaining independence through the death of their spouse, they find themselves once again dependent on a wider sphere for support. They have to look to their children or grandchildren to fill their needs. And if they are not able to help, the widows place themselves under the care of the Church. And this is not just to be for continuing spiritual care, but for the needed physical necessities of life which their remaining family may not be able to provide.
As difficult as it is for youth, with their growing talents and skills to remain humble and submissive to those who are older, widows too will struggle to humbly seek out help from places where they have not needed to turn for many many years. Again, we are all to remain humble and submissive in the various callings that God has given to us. And at the same time not to be lax about carrying out the duties and responsibilities that God has apportioned to us. For being humble and submissive does not mean that we let everyone else do the work. It means that we do our part to help and care for others, too.
Godly youth will do their utmost to develop their talents and abilities in order that they may grow in useful knowledge and virtue to help not only those who are younger than themselves, but also those whose increasing years bring them difficulty and challenges in life, including the challenges of those who might turn to them for help when they never had occasion to do so before.
Godly widows, experiencing new and different needs will set their hope on God and pray not only for themselves, but for all. They have a unique perspective on God meeting the needs of all the saints, and so we often find widows being God's mighty hand at work to fill the needs of others. They have a reputation for good works: having raised children, showing hospitality, caring for the sick, and providing for the needs of the church in prayer, in offerings, and in handiwork for mission and service.
As we meditate upon the Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ, we come across the mention of both youth and widows. It shows that His Passion is for everyone, young and old and all who are in between. In the Gospel of Mark there is the curious mention of a young man present when Jesus was arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane. Only Mark records this detail and so some think that it may refer to Mark himself, who followed along with Jesus and the twelve disciples after they had eaten the Passover meal in the house of Mark's mother.
“And Jesus said to them, 'Have you come out as against a robber, with swords and clubs to capture Me? Day after day I was with you in the temple teaching, and you did not seize Me. But let the Scriptures be fulfilled.' And they all left Him and fled. And a young man followed Him, with nothing but a linen cloth about his body. And they seized him, but he left the linen cloth and ran away naked” (Mark 14:48-51).
If this was indeed the Mark who wrote the gospel and reflecting upon his youth at the time, it shows his humility in confessing what he must have regarded as one of his gravest sins: abandoning Jesus at His arrest. He does not name himself anywhere in the gospel but reveals his humility even as he was revealed when running away and leaving his covering behind.
The widows, humbly remained with Jesus, throughout His crucifixion, death, and burial. “The women who had followed Him from Galilee stood at a distance watching these things” (Luke 23:49). They may not have all been widows, but as we have seen in the dedication displayed in our own congregations, the widows among them likely took the lead. As difficult as it must have been they remained there watching the horror that was a stinging pain not only to their eyes, but more so to their hearts. And when Joseph of Arimathea took the body of Jesus and placed it in a tomb, “the women who had come with Him from Galilee followed and saw the tomb and how His body was laid. They they returned and prepared spices and ointments. On the Sabbath they rested according to the commandment. But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they went to the tomb, taking the spices they had prepared” (Luke 23:5-24:1).
In humility they remained when all others had fled. They had faced death before when it claimed their husbands, but they were willing to stare down that old enemy again as it took away their beloved Lord Jesus. How hard it must have been for them. And how courageous and strong they proved themselves to be. They silently gave place to Joseph and Nicodemas as they prepared Jesus' body for burial. With caring attention to detail, they noticed what was lacking in the work of the men. Nicodemas had brought 75 pounds of spices for the burial, 75 pounds. But for the women even this was not enough, and they made plans to come back alone and give the body of Christ the attention and care that the hurried burial was denied with the coming of sunset.
They obediently observed the Sabbath day of rest, but at first opportunity they made their way again to the tomb to complete their deed of love. And the Lord God honoured them to be the first to see the empty tomb. He called them to be the first to proclaim the resurrection, to tell all these things to the disciples, to bear the scorn under such a glorious calling while the disciples thought they were telling idle tales and would not believe them (Luke 24:11).
Everyone, “love your neighbour as yourself.” Pray for everyone. Even our Lord Jesus Christ humbly submitted Himself to do these things. The account of His life and also of His Passion and death are full of Him doing these things for everyone, for you. St. Paul wrote, “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though He was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:5-8).
He humbled Himself as a babe born in Bethlehem, as a youth who was submissive to His parents as He grew in wisdom and stature, and even unto death, His death on the cross. That death was for our sins of not being humble, of rejecting the callings that God has laid upon us simply because they call us to be humble, humble before others and humble before God. But Jesus sees us stripped bare of our pride. Our nakedness is exposed and all there is to see is humiliated sin running away like a young man in fear, trying not to get caught. For these sins Jesus was stripped naked and nailed to the cross. The soldiers gambled for His robes while He hung on display covered only in our ugly sins.
And having humbled Himself to the point of death, He helplessly allowed others to care for His dead body as it was wrapped in a linen shroud and laid in a tomb. No amount of ointments or spices could fend off the stench of our dead sins and trespasses that He had taken upon Himself. It was for us that He humbled Himself and was “obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”
But Paul continues, “Therefore God has highly exalted Him and bestowed on Him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:9-11). The heavenly Father exalted His Son by raising Him from the dead and seating Him at His right hand over all rulers and authorities and powers.
So, we are all encouraged, in whatever calling we have been given, to “Humble yourselves, therefore, under God's mighty hand, that He may lift you up in due time.” (1 Peter 5:6). It is the blessed promise of our loving heavenly Father through Jesus Christ His dear Son, that if we humbly lay bare our sins before Him, He will forgives us and clothe us with the righteous robe of Christ Jesus Himself. And even though death may drag us down to the grave, we will rise with Christ to be seated with Him in glory.