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“For the fool speaks folly, and his heart is busy with iniquity, to practice ungodliness, to utter error concerning the Lord, to leave the craving of the hungry unsatisfied, and to deprive the thirsty of drink.” (Isaiah 32:6)

He suffered from depression throughout much of his life. At the age of 12, distraught at the news of his grandmother’s death, he jumped from a second story window of the family home allegedly attempting suicide. Although his family was deeply involved in the church – the young man questioned religion throughout his adolescence, much to the dismay of his father who was an American Baptist minister. However, in his junior year – he took a Bible class, renewed his faith, began to envision a career in the ministry, and later graduated from seminary. He was a very high-energy man requiring only minimal hours of nightly sleep, but he was repeatedly hospitalized for periods of exhaustion when he could no longer function. He would rebound to travel all over the country and the world, sometimes giving multiple speeches and sermons daily.  This was his pace for most of his short adult working life. Increasingly he turned to tobacco and alcohol for support, and his extra-marital affairs have been well documented. Like most of us, he was a flawed individual.

Years after his death by assassination, Martin Luther King, Jr. is the most widely known African-American leader of his era. His life and work have been honored with a national holiday celebrated annually on the third Monday in January near the 15th, his birthday.  As with many historical figures, he is remembered for his ability to lead and influence others.  His deep commitment for civil rights through nonviolent means brought him distinction. His well-known and frequently quoted “I Have a Dream” speech has served to be a prominent part of his legacy. Because of his activism and his campaigns for social equality, we sometimes forget that King was a Christian minister. He once made the following observation about himself: “In the quiet recesses of my heart, I am fundamentally a clergyman, a Baptist preacher.” Some of his lesser-known speeches came in the form of sermons spoken from church pulpits. One of those entitled “Why Jesus Called a Man a Fool” was delivered less than a year before he died.

King used the Parable of the Rich Fool as the basis for this sermon.  Taken from the Gospel of Luke is the story of someone in a crowd who asks Jesus to intervene in a request to divide an inheritance. Jesus responds to the person in which probably today would be stated – ‘Who made me your judge and jury?’ He goes on to say that life is not about building up possessions. Then He recites this story: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’ Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain.’  And I’ll say to myself, ‘you have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.’ But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’ This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God” (Luke 12:13-21). You might ask why Jesus would refer to the man as a fool. Very simply, it was because he did not recognize his dependence on God. His plan was to build up earthly riches, never considering the fact that today his life could be over. Then he would have died materially wealthy but spiritually deprived.

Somewhere along the line, I remember learning as a child that is was inappropriate to call another man a fool. Now that I have the wisdom of some years behind me, I have come to realize that if we are fortunate to spend many years on this earth – we each take our turns being one from time to time. Jesus said: “But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. . . And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.” (Matthew 5:22). Here Jesus is talking about anger that results in judgment. As Christians, we must preserve love and seek peace with others without delay. In doing so, we are reconciled to God through Christ. Perhaps the King James version states it best: “Forsake the foolish, and live; and go in the way of understanding” (Proverbs 9:6). I think King would like that, and without a doubt – I’m sure Jesus would.

REFLECTION: The Apostle Paul said that as we mature, we should discontinue our foolish ways (1 Corinthians 13:11). What are your foolish things? How might you seek God’s guidance to overcome them?


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