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January 15, 2021

Reflections on Martin Luther King Jr. Day

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Legacy

As we prepare to take a day off in commemoration of the life of Martin Luther King Jr., I would urge us to take this opportunity to reflect on King's legacy, his moral commitment and his hopefulness, a hopefulness that enabled him, however imperfectly, to try to make the world a more dignified place.

On April 3, 1968, the night before his untimely death, King was at Mason Temple giving what would be the last "sermon" of his life. In this sermon he appealed powerfully and provocatively to the parable of the Good Samaritan. For those of you unfamiliar, see here.

In my view, this is one of the most powerful sermons King gave, not simply because it was his last. I am sharing a lengthy quotation from that sermon so as to avoid distorting its meaning and significance:

Excerpt from Dr. King's last speech:

"... Jesus immediately pulled [the] question from mid-air, and placed it on a dangerous curve between Jerusalem and Jericho. And he talked about a certain man, who fell among thieves. You remember that a Levite and a priest passed by on the other side. They didn't stop to help him. And finally a man of another race came by. He got down from his beast, decided not to be compassionate by proxy. But with him, administered first aid, and helped the man in need. Jesus ended up saying, this was the good man, because he had the capacity to project the "I" into the "thou," and to be concerned about his brother. Now you know, we use our imagination a great deal to try to determine why the priest and the Levite didn't stop. At times we say they were busy going to church meetings -- an ecclesiastical gathering -- and they had to get on down to Jerusalem so they wouldn't be late for their meeting. ... But I'm going to tell you what my imagination tells me. It's possible that these men were afraid. ...That's a dangerous road. In the day of Jesus it came to be known as the "Bloody Pass." And you know, it's possible that the priest and the Levite looked over that man on the ground and wondered if the robbers were still around. Or it's possible that they felt that the man on the ground was merely faking. And he was acting like he had been robbed and hurt, in order to seize them over there, lure them there for quick and easy seizure. And so the first question that the Levite asked was, "If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?" But then the Good Samaritan came by. And he reversed the question: "If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?"

King is challenging us to ask ourselves whether we are, in fact, prepared to live lives of profound unselfishness.

Keep in mind, in my view, the focus of our daily reflections should be firmly placed on the interrogation of self. That is not to say that we don't need to focus on the social ills that are a predictable and a necessary byproduct of institutions and structures that shape us and our neighbors. Concentrating on the interrogation of our social structures and social policies is essential. But, we cannot overlook the importance of investigating the ways we live up to and fail to live up to our espoused commitments and values.

In closing, I leave you with a modest prayer.

Dear Jesus, Please bless us all with your sacrificial love and your deep and profound kindness. Gently lead us by showing us the way as we strive to mature spiritually and morally and as we make an effort to see you in each and every one of our neighbors. Please help us be patient with ourselves, with each other and with the circumstances we find ourselves in today. May we strive to be instruments of your peace even in the most difficult times. May we work to avoid bitterness and vengefulness in all we do as we recognize that living lives of love, mercy and compassion is what we are called to do. And, may we find the courage to do what is right even when it is difficult and uncomfortable.

In peace and friendship,

President Miguel Martinez-Saenz

Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.

1 Corinthians 13:4-7

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