Looking out over the past few weeks, and the growth of the Occupy movement, this story is familiar. It started with one blog post, and grew into a movement making use of social media to spread the word. Concerned with the well-being of the poorest in the US, they have lobbed some very real critiques at the current political and economic systems of the US; but those in power have not listened.
But this is not the story of Occupy Wall Street, this is the story that we recount every year on this day, the story of the Reformation. While Martin Luther's critique of Rome and her power structure had a profound theological motivation, he appears to have been compelled to act - above all else - out of pastoral concern for his flock. Watching the poor families under his charge hand over what little they had only to have that money go into the pockets of bishops who already had more wealth than they could possibly spend, Luther could not remain silent. And, thanks to the new technology of the printing press, Luther's ideas spread farther and faster than anyone could have anticipated.
Am I overstating the case? Am I seeing connections where there are none? Have a listen to Martin Luther himself, in the 95 Theses he posted on the evening before All Saints Day, in 1517:
46. Christians are to be taught that, unless they have more than they need, they must reserve enough for their family needs and by no means squander it on indulgences.And as he later explains what he means by this thesis:
There are many who have neither bread nor proper clothing and yet, led astray by the din and noise of the preachers of indulgences, rob themselves and bring about their own poverty in order to increase the wealth of the indulgence sellers.
Certainly, Luther is not opposed to wealth. He goes on to argue in other places that the princes and public officials have an obligation - in their public office - to acquire and accumulate a certain amount of wealth ... But that wealth is to be acquired and accumulated for the public good. That is, certain members in society as Luther envisioned it had an obligation to acquire wealth so that they could make sure that everyone else in the town/province had enough. How different would our conversation be today in America if this was how we viewed wealth?
Martin Luther saw the poor being exploited by the wealthy, and he attacked the underlying theological system that allowed such exploitation to take place. At the end of the day, the truth our current system believes in is this: Those who have the most deserve it, because they have worked the hardest. Make no mistake, this is a theological claim. But the Reformation truth is this: "Work" and "deserving" are not a part of the gospel lexicon, but grace and mercy are. On Reformation Day, in a country with a predominantly Protestant Christian population, I cannot help but wonder: Where is the grace and mercy of our political and economic systems?