Painted by Lucas Cranach the Elder, a contemporary and friend of Martin Luther’s, the image on the front of today’s worship booklet is called “Law and Grace.” Can you guess which side of the painting portrays the law and which side is an image of grace? Looking at this painting, one might wonder why Luther includes any kind of law in the Small Catechism.
Yet, Luther knew we need both law and gospel (or grace). We need the law to order our steps; we need to the law in order to live as closely to the way God intends as we can. But our inability to keep the law points toward the grace…the gospel…the good news…we so desperately need. This understanding of law and gospel became so fundamental for Luther that he started seeing law and gospel all throughout scripture. “All Scripture ought to be distributed into these two principal topics, the Law and the promises. For in some places it presents the Law, and in others the promise concerning Christ.” Law goes beyond the Ten Commandments to include anything that points out our human condition and gospel means anything that points to God’s promises. Can you find both law and gospel in today’s first reading? In today’s Gospel reading? In the Ten Commandments?
Luther knew we need both law and gospel. The problem in Luther’s day is that the balance was a little out of whack. That’s what Luther and the other Reformers and Lucas Cranach the Elder were pointing out. They were saying salvation comes not through keeping the law…as honorable as that is…but from standing just as we are in front of the crucified and risen Christ who has already been the grace of God for us.
In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus says very clearly that he came not to abolish the law, but to fulfill it. Jesus didn’t abolish the law because law and gospel work together. Both are invitations from a gracious God to tell us…and to show us…what love looks like. When they work together, as Luther tells us and Cranach shows us, that’s when we can stand naked to the soul before the crucified and risen Christ, trusting in the one who IS the gospel…the very promise of God…the grace of God for us.