Image shared from www.biography.com
“Come let us now kill the dreamer, and we shall see what will become of his dreams.”
Every January, we as a nation are given the opportunity to stop and reflect on the life, teachings, and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. King was born on January 15, 1929, ninety years ago. Like with any icon–a person whose life has taken on symbolic meaning or is worthy of veneration–the meaning of King’s life and witness takes countless forms, some that stray far from the actual man.
Thus we do well to interrupt our lives this week by reading or watching one of his speeches or sermons. His message transcends time and space. Words he spoke over fifty years ago have deep spiritual power and relevance for our time.
Among the many commemorations of King’s life this weekend, Washington National Cathedral will present The Other America, a service in which excerpts of a speech Dr. King gave at Stanford University in 1967 will be read and amplified by musical and dance performances. Featured artists include JJ Hairston, Howard University Choir, Children of the Gospel, the Cathedral Band, and Andile Ndlovu of the Washington Ballet. The event is sold out but may be watched on live stream.
I have another of King’s speeches in my mind this week–a vignette from his last public address.
On April 3, 1968, a storm raged outside the Mason Temple in Memphis, Tennessee, and inside King was struggling with exhaustion. Still, he rose to address the crowd gathered and among the many things he said, explained why he had decided to come to Memphis in support of the sanitation workers strike by musing on Jesus’ story of the Good Samaritan.
In Jesus’ story, two religious leaders saw a man mortally wounded on the side of the road and chose to pass by on the other side. Only a man of a despised race, the Samaritan, stopped to help, illustrating what King called “a dangerous unselfishness,” the essence of love. “The first question the Levite and the priest asked when they saw the wounded man,” King said, “was ‘If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?’ The Good Samaritan reversed the question, ‘If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?’”
“That is the question before you tonight,” King told the Memphis crowd. “Not, if I stop to help the sanitation workers what will happen to me? But “If I do not stop to help the sanitation workers, what will happen to them?”
Dangerous unselfishness is love willing to be interrupted. It is love willing to risk, willing to stand in proximity to suffering and to strive for justice. Jesus concluded his story of the Good Samaritan by urging his listeners to “go and do likewise.” We honor King and are most faithful to Jesus when we do the same.