What We Are: A reflection on the words of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr

A reflection by MTS student Brendan O’Kane

Man is more than an animal[.]  Man is more than flesh and blood[.]  Some year(s) ago a chemist attempted to determine the worth of man in terms of material value[.]  The results of the study revealed that in terms of the markets of that day man was worth only 99 cents in material value.  This simply means that the stuff of man’s bodily make-up is worth only 99 cents.  But is it possible to explain the whole of man in terms of 99 cents[?]  Can we explain the literary genius of a Shakespeare in terms of 99 cents?  Can we explain the artistic genius of a Michelangelo in terms of 99 cents?  Can we explain the musical genius of a Beethoven in terms of 99 cents?  Can we explain the spiritual genius of Jesus of Nazareth in terms of nighty nine cents?  Can we explain the ongoing processes of our own ordinary lives in terms of 99 cents?  My friends there is something in man that cannot be calculated in materialistic terms.  Man is a being of spirit.  This is ultimately that which distinguishes man from his animal ancestry.  He is in time, yet above time; He is in nature, yet above nature.  He is made to have communion with that which is eternal and everlasting.

from “What Is Man” a sermon Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama on July 11th 1954.[1]

In 1954 America, ten years before legislation prohibited discrimination based on race, color, sex or national origin, there were those in our society who valued men differently.  There were those who denied the incalculable worth God gave all men and women.  Here Dr. King delivers a reminder of our true value.  It is a message of God’s love addressed directly to the congregation, yet intended for all of God’s children.  Dr. King was glorifying his teacher, Jesus Christ, by proclaiming this message to all, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” (Matt. 11:15)  Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke to a country filled with many who responded by covering their ears like a pedestrian averting the roar of an ambulance siren, yet he was not deterred.  He knew that the ambulance contained our entire nation.  His message, inspired by his belief in the Word, was and is now heard in classrooms and living rooms alike.   Today we pray for him and the daily practice of his message as the Apostles did in the upper room. (Acts 1:13)

[1] Punctuation added to original document is in parenthesis.


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