It’s very late on the day we celebrate Dr. King’s birthday and year after year, I rarely find anyone who knows anything beyond the “I Have A Dream” speech. Hence, I began sharing excerpts from some of his sermons. This sermon based on the parable of the Rich Man from Luke 16:16-21. In the interest of brevity I will only share some excerpts. In this sermon Dr. King showed extraordinary foresight into the future. He describes how the rich man was a fool and how similar thinking continues to keep the United States in bondage to this day.
The rich man was a fool because he permitted the ends for which he lived to become confused with the means by which he lived. Jesus realized that we need food, clothing, shelter, and economic security. He said in clear and concise terms: “Your Father knoweth what things you have need of.”
The tragedy of the rich man was that he sought the means first and in the process the ends were swallowed in the means. We can clearly see the meaning of the parable for the present world crisis. Our nation’s productive machinery constantly brings forth such an abundance of food that we must build bigger barns and spend more than a million dollars daily to store our surplus. Year after year we ask, “What shall I do, because I have no room where to bestow my fruits?” I have seen an answer in the faces of millions of poverty-stricken men and women in Asia, Africa and South America. I have seen an answer in the appalling poverty in the Mississippi Delta and the tragic insecurity of the unemployed in large industrial cities of the North. What can we do? The answer is simple. We can store our surplus food free of charge in the shriveled stomachs of the millions of God’s children who go to bed hungry at night. We can use our vast resources of wealth to wipe poverty from the earth.
In a real sense, all life is interrelated. All men are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be, and you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be. This is the interrelated structure of reality.
The rich man tragically failed to realize this. He thought that he could live and grow in his little self-centered world. He was an individualist gone wild. Indeed, he as an eternal fool!
May it not be that the “certain rich man” is Western civilization: Rich in goods and material resources, our standards of success are almost inextricably bound to the lust for acquisition. The means by which we live are marvelous indeed. And yet something is missing. We have learned to fly the air like birds and swim the sea like fish, but we have not learned the simple art of living together as brothers. Our abundance has brought us neither peace of mind nor serenity of spirit. An Oriental writer has portrayed our dilemma in candid terms:
You call your thousand material devices “labor-saving machinery” yet you are forever “busy”. With the multiplying of your machinery you grow increasingly fatigued, anxious, nervous, dissatisfied. Whatever you have, you want more: and wherever you are you want to go somewhere else . . .
Like the rich man of old, we have foolishly minimized the internal and maximized the external. we will not find peace in our generation until we learn anew that “a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth”. Our generation cannot escape the question of our Lord: What shall it profit a man, if he gain the whole world of externals-airplanes, electric lights, automobiles, and the color television-and lose the internal-his own soul.
An excerpt from Strength to Love, published 1963 by Martin Luther King Jr.