“But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, ‘Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.’ Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.” Luke 10:33-37
The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. preached the last sermon of his life on April 3, 1968, at the Bishop Charles Mason Temple in Memphis, Tennessee. He was in Memphis in support of the general strike that had been called by the local garbage collectors union.
Dr. King had long since seen the connection between racism and poverty and was drawn to the struggle in Memphis because of those garbage collectors represented the working poor who could hardly sustain the life of a family even though they worked long hard hours.
In his last sermon, although he makes several biblical references, the passage he highlights is the parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke. He brought it up as he encouraged his listeners to develop what he called a “kind of dangerous unselfishness.” When he asked why the priest and the Levite didn’t stop to help, King suggests they were afraid.
This is what Dr. King said next, “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?’
"That’s the question before you tonight. Not, ‘If I stop to help the sanitation workers, what will happen to all of the hours I usually spend in my office every day and every week as a pastor?’ ‘If I do not stop to help the sanitation workers, what will happen to them?’ That’s the question.”
It has been 53 years since Dr. King was assassinated in Memphis. One would like to think that so much has changed and yet the events of this past month indicate that is not the case. We still have hard working people living in poverty. Racial injustice is alive and well.
We still have seemingly good people who live in fear: the fear of not being able to provide for their families; the fear of stepping up to say, "Enough is enough;" and the fear of caring for their neighbor in need.
As we move into 2021 it is my goal to try to further develop a “kind of dangerous unselfishness.” Perhaps you might consider this as well. Our neighbors, our communities, our nation and our world are in dire need of this sort of holy effort.
Let us pray: Dear Lord, we thank you for your servant, your pastor and your prophet, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. We thank you for his truth telling and his courage, for his willingness to speak on behalf of the voiceless and to continue speaking amidst the fearful crowds that would have shouted him down.
"But most of all, we pray that you flood us with the kind of dangerous unselfishness that fills us with a holy disconnect at the continued divisions among the people you have created. Keep both love and justice before our eyes that we might work into your vision for our common life together. In Jesus’ name. Amen."
Stephen Blenkush is pastor at Our Savior's Lutheran Church in Pequot Lakes.