I started writing this piece about the life and legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. However, the more I wrote, the more I discovered that the very things that made King’s life so profound find their roots in the life of Jesus. To illustrate the parallels between the two men, I’ve included a few links to passages in the Bible. You’re welcome to skim over these links or explore them more if you so desire.
Martin Luther King, Jr. is a symbol of greatness to men and women all over the world.
I spent much of today reading through blogs and articles that have attempted to capture the essence of this extraordinary pastor-turned-activist from Atlanta, Georgia.
Many writers mention his charisma. Others bring to light his unusual boldness and resolve in the presence of relentless opposition. His impeccable character and unquestionable integrity remain a constant theme in article after article as well.
They all agree that Martin Luther King, Jr. was, by anyone’s definition, a great man. It would be hard to find a person who would not include him among the ranks of men like Lincoln, Roosevelt and Gandhi.
But what is perhaps most striking about Dr. King was his unusual, at times downright strange attitude toward the greatness that was thrust upon him. In fact, King’s words and actions seem to reveal that he genuinely believed he was not worthy of being called ‘great’. The posture King took when describing himself comes across as apathetic at best and self-deprecating at worst.
Upon reading his speeches, sermons and books, one must conclude that this man was not concerned in the slightest about his personal interests, well-being or future legacy. Over forty years have passed since his martyr-like death and it seems that not one person has been able to provide evidence that this man was not as selfless and genuine as his public and private life revealed him to be.
King truly was blameless in the purest sense of the word.
And yet, despite all his efforts to minimize his own contributions to the Civil Rights Movement and lift up the sacrifices of his fellow brothers and sisters in the fight, society has lifted him up to the small, lofty pedestal reserved only for those men and women who are truly great.
This is astounding… It would seem that the men and women whom we esteem to be the most courageous, the most loving, the most compassionate, the most humble, the most authentic and the most selfless were, by their own standards, worthy of none of those claims.
The men who stand on the godlike pedestal of true greatness were the men who cared the least about achieving such a status.
The extraordinary paradox of human greatness is this: The most humble (truly humble) of men are esteemed to be greatest (truly greatest) among men.
With this truth in mind, my eyes turn to my life and the lives of my friends. As I write this with trembling hands, everything within me fears that we’ve forgotten what it means to be truly great, and thus what it means to truly live.
Our gifts, skills and talents have become merely tools we leverage to increase our earning capacity.
Our grade point averages, famous colleges and degrees have turned into tiny, shoddy pedestals on which we proudly stand a little bit taller than those around us.
Those around us have been reduced to scaffolding (temporary and replaceable) in our individual quests to make our lives as successful as possible.
Throughout our lives, we’ve been told to get a job (for ourselves) and make a living (for ourselves) and work for forty years (to earn a pension for ourselves) and then retire (so we can have more time to ourselves) and then die of old age (sadly, often by ourselves).
I have a sinking feeling that we’ve been lied to about what life is really all about.
Dr. King taught us that the greatest life lived is not the one spent serving our own interests, but the one lived down on our knees, serving and washing the feet of those around us.
Dr. King taught us that a short life is not a meaningless life. In fact, his untimely death proves that life is not measured by how long we live or how much we have, but about how much we love. Does anybody scoff at how little King likely made as a pastor? Does anybody even care?
My fear is that most of us will spend our entire lives placing our stock into a fund that won’t pay out. Putting our trust in towers that are destined to crumble. Weaving the fabric of our lives in accordance with societal “truths” that are actually lies.
The lie that the best (meaning most meaningful) life is the most comfortable life.
The lie that the best jobs are the ones that pay more than five figures.
The lie that the best relationships are the ones we don’t have to commit to.
The lie that the best nights are the ones we can’t even remember.
The lie that the best friends are the kind who exist to help you get to where you want to go.
The lie that the best God is the one that doesn’t exist.
I fear that many of us are in danger of spending our lives relentlessly pursuing the wrong things.
My fear is not that you are one of those people. My fear is that I am one of those people.
Please understand my heart in writing this to you today. It is not my place to judge anyone’s decisions except my own. You have your reasons for living how you live, and I have mine.
But if I may plead before you today…
Let us at least count the cost before we build the lofty towers of our existence on the foundations of our own selfish desires.
Today, Dr. King reminds us that the most meaningful lives are not constructed on the cracked, cheap, common foundations of “What’s in it for me?”
The most meaningful lives are built on foundations that can’t fail.
My prayer is that all of us would take a moment today to examine the foundations of our lives.
Is the foundation shaky… or sturdy?
Is it destined to fail… or never-failing?
Is it the best (really the best) foundation on which to build my life?
As long as we still have breath in our lungs, it’s never too late to start over. But my suspicion (for I would not be telling the truth if I said that I knew without a doubt) is that one day it will be too late. And our towers will be tested.
On that day, we’ll have only ourselves to blame if they stand in strength or fall in disgrace.
My prayer is that every man, woman, boy and girl on this earth will discover this truth before it’s too late:
The greatest life is not the one lived in the selfish pursuit of me, but in the selfless pursuit of we.
A life that extends past death… and into eternity.
“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?'” — Martin Luther King, Jr