Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Martin Luther King Jr. and the Parables (part 2)

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.


Here are some excerpts and comments about Dr. King's sermon on the parable of the Rich Fool in Chicago (August 27, 1967):

Although the rich man in the parable, King says, was successful “by all modern standards” and “would abound with social prestige and community respectability,” Jesus, a Galilean peasant, had the audacity to call him a fool. The man was foolish, King argues, because his economic well-being absorbed all of his thoughts, and he ignored what was most important:

We have both a privilege and a duty to seek the basic material necessities of life. Only an irrelevant religion fails to be concerned about man's economic well-being. Religion at its best realizes that the soul is crushed as long as the body is tortured with hunger pangs and harrowed with the need for shelter. Jesus realized that we need food, clothing, shelter, and economic security . . . . But Jesus knew that man was more than a dog to be satisfied by a few economic bones. He realized that the internal of a man's life is as significant as the external. So he added, "Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you."  The tragedy of the rich man was that he sought the means first, and in the process the ends were swallowed in the means.  The richer this man became materially the poorer he became intellectually and spiritually (http://saintjohnorthodox.org/The%20Rich%20Fool%20in%20html.htm)

As the man’s self-centered soliloquy demonstrates—where he uses the first-person pronoun twelve times—the rich man also was foolish because he failed to realize his dependence upon others. He does not realize that other human beings contributed to his material wealth. King then applies the parable to the wealthy United States and uses the Sheep and Goats parable as a prescription for how such a wealthy nation should use its resources in an interdependent world, and it echoes the words of Theophylact (I'll write some posts about him later) about the best “storehouses” for the excess food:

When an individual or a nation overlooks this interdependence, we find a tragic foolishness. We can clearly see the meaning of this parable for the present world crisis. Our nation's productive machinery constantly brings forth such an abundance of food that we must build larger 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 on 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: feed the poor, clothe the naked, and heal the sick. Where can we store our goods? Again 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. 

The rich man was also foolish, however, because he did not realize that his wealth was also ultimately dependent upon God:

Jesus called the rich man a fool because he failed to realize his dependence on God. He talked as though he unfolded the seasons and provided the fertility of the soil, controlled the rising and the setting of the sun, and regulated the natural processes that produce the rain and the dew. He had an unconscious feeling that he was the Creator, not a creature. 

Such foolishness in modern times, King observes, results in materialism or replacing faith in God with faith in science. The foolishness of expecting science to usher in a better world disappeared, however, in “the explosion of this myth” in the horrors of Nagasaki and Hiroshima. Physical power, unless it is controlled by spiritual power, will lead to our doom, just like the rich fool: “Without dependence on God our efforts turn to ashes and our sunrises into darkest night.” Unfortunately, King notes, the rich man was foolishly unaware of this dependence on God and on others, and:

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.


King closes the sermon by paraphrasing a question asked by Jesus: “What shall it profit a man, if he gain the whole world of externals—airplanes, electric lights, automobiles, and color television—and lose the internal—his own soul?”

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