All Saints Sunday A

Poverty of spirit, some sign of election, and mercy as a work. All from just the Beatitudes!

Matthew 5:1-12

Chapter 5 is called out in The Large Catechism, Part 1: The Ten Commandments, The Fifth Commandment (LC 1.182), but a footnote (LC 1.182, n. 95) explains that the particular verses are 20-26. This is included for completion and accuracy.

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
--Matthew 5:3

Verse 3 is cited through editorial insert in Apology of the Augsburg Confession, Article 27: Monastic Vows (AP 27.46) in an argument that earthly wealth and property is not, in and of itself, a problem. Instead, Melanchthon argues that being poor in spirit is "the absence of greed and of trust in riches." His example is King David. Some things to keep in mind about this: First the requirement of poverty for some religious orders at the time was being used to color any kind of property ownership or wealth as somehow sinful, an argument the Lutheran reformers saw as both hypocritical and harmful. Second, Melanchthon is working from Luther's understanding that a god is whatever or whomever you place your trust in and reliance on.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
--Matthew 5:6

Verse 6 is cited in Formula of Concord, Solid Declaration, Article 11: Election (SD 11.30) to describe even the smallest inkling of someone possibly being of God's elect, they will "have a hunger and thirst for righteousness."

Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
--Matthew 5:7

Verse 7 is quoted in Apology of the Augsburg Confession, Article 4: Justification (AP 4.252, quarto) as one of the verses used to show that works justify. Melanchthon notes simply that works are only efficacious because of faith and that God's forgiveness of our sins on account of Jesus is what makes faith possible. Even mercy is an act of faith reflecting God's forgiveness, not a required work.


Feel free to take umbrage at Melanchthon's reading of verse 3. He was making a very particular argument. Of course, the way the German reformers after Luther's death read verse 5 might mean that your hungering or thirsting for righteousness in response to Melanchthon's reading of verse 3 could be an indication that you are one of God's elect. And if you are, then what you're also experiencing is a call to live that gift today.

In the context of All Saints Sunday, there is another call to not attempt to preach those you are remembering into heaven by talking about how much they fulfilled the Beatitudes. We humans are a mixed bag, and in the Lutheran tradition, the recognition that we are simultaneously saint and sinner. This way we can honestly remember those who have gone before us as the complete and complicated people they were whose salvation is just as dependent on God's grace as ours is.

  • How do you recognize those who have died in the past year on All Saints?
  • Who else do you recognize? How?