Will This Prophet be Heard?

A few days late on this, but still worth highlighting. From the archives, the editors on the death of Martin Luther King, Jr.

The prophet speaks to men for God. Men are never sure that they wish to hear what God says to them. They sense that God's message will not be altogether comfortable. So men strive to ignore the prophet, or to silence him. Failing all else, they kill him. It is then, strangely, that the prophetic voice rings out most clearly, with greatest force. It is then, when the hour seems too late and all appears lost, that the prophet may be heard, God's message may be received, and men may take a decisive step toward a better way of life.

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We mourn that the prophet must die in order to be heard. We are ashamed that his last and most eloquent word must be the shedding of his blood. What must not happen is that even this last word go finally unheard. The prophet must not have died in vain.

A prophet speaks in three ways. He reads the future. He denounces the sins of men and warns of God's punishments. He promises, with confidence, in God's name, a brighter tomorrow.

As we listen now to the moving words Martin Luther King uttered, close to tears, on the night before he died, we are willing to believe that this man, in some sort, peered into the misty future and half glimpsed his death. Humbly and simply he said: "I want to live"—as if he knew he would not. No matter, he said, gently brushing aside his intimation of death, "I want to do God's will." This good man spoke exactly as did another, on the night before He died.

Martin Luther King denounced one sin, one wickedness, of men. The evil he denounced was the sin of our time, the sin of the respectable, of the good, the sin that has been laundered and tricked out as relatively innocent, quite understandable, and—after some token penance—best forgotten rather than repented. It is that black sin against the black man that has been whitewashed, aptly enough, by the white man. This prophet warned that America would pay for its sin. We are so paying, and will pay for a long time to come.

Read the rest here. NB: John LaFarge, S.J., a longtime editor at America and a pioneer of the civil rights movement, stood on the dais with King when he delivered his "I Have A Dream" speech. You can learn more about Fr. LaFarge here.

And for a fascinating exegesis of King's speech, check out this piece from "On the Media."

Tim Reidy

 

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
David Pasinski
5 years 9 months ago
Thank you for this editorial. It was well done  and the memory of John Lafarge makes me yearn for those ecclesial leaders - local and national - that animated us in that era. And King himself-the poignancy of that speech brings tears to all our eyes yet, I'm sure. even recognizing over the years his human failings, still a prophet without equal in our modern era.  Where oh where are we today...?

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