Monday Meditation: Celebrating Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

– Written by Rev. Tambi Swiney

Today our nation celebrates the birthday of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. On this day of remembrance for a man and the justice movement he gave his life for, people often recall the words Dr. King spoke on April 3, 1968, to a crowd of striking sanitation workers in Memphis. Many of us are familiar with the closing lines of Dr. King’s final speech, delivered on the day before he was assassinated:

We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn’t matter with me now. Because I’ve been to the mountaintop. And I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land. And I’m happy, tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.”

Many people don’t know that in this speech Dr. King referenced one of Jesus’ most famous stories: the parable of the Good Samaritan. This story, recorded in Luke 10:25-37, focuses on the responses of three men as they encounter another man in crisis. Jesus told this story in response to a lawyer’s question: “Who is my neighbor?”

When a priest saw the man who had been beaten and robbed and left for dead along the road to Jericho, he assessed the situation and chose not to act, passing by on the other side of the road. When a Levite (another religious leader) saw the wounded man, he likewise chose not to help, passing by on the other side. But when a Samaritan man saw the injured man, he displayed compassion, tending to the man’s wounds, taking the man to an inn where he could recuperate, pledging to pay for all expenses the innkeeper incurred as he cared for the man. At the conclusion of the story, Jesus asked the lawyer, “Which of these was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” The lawyer replied, “The one who had mercy on him.” Jesus responded, “Go and do likewise.”

Many people have speculated about why the priest and the Levite chose to ignore the one who was suffering on the road to Jericho. Some have postulated that the priest and the Levite were adhering to religious purity laws, but these laws did not prevent people from rendering aid in emergencies. In his final speech, Dr. King suggested that the priest and the Levite chose not to help because they were afraid of what might happen to them. Were the robbers still lurking nearby? Was this man faking injuries to lure them into a trap? Would they be attacked and robbed if they stopped to help?

Dr. King asserts that the questions that the three passersby asked when they encountered the injured man were intrinsically different. The priest and the Levite asked, “If I stopped to help this man in need, what will happen to me?” The Samaritan reversed the question: “If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?” (https://kinginstitute.stanford.edu/king-papers/documents/ive-been-mountaintop-address-delivered-bishop-charles-mason-temple)

At The Next Door, we function more like the innkeeper in the parable. People in need are brought to us for healing or come to us on their own seeking help. But we live in a wider world where we must make decisions about whether will choose to engage with our neighbors who are suffering. Do we count the cost and choose to pass by on the other side, ignoring their suffering? Or will we choose to take responsibility for the welfare of our neighbors, lending aid as best we can to those who have been marginalized, those who are wounded and weary? If we do not stop to help, what will happen to our neighbors?

May we show mercy to our clients at The Next Door and to our neighbors in need beyond these doors, today and always.

Published on January 18, 2021
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