Birthday of Martin Luther King Jr. 2022
Next Monday, January 17, is the MLK Day federal holiday. It is a day during which we celebrate the life and achievements of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (January 15, 1929 – April 4, 1968).
Dr. King believed and preached that every person, regardless of race, has a role in helping to achieve social justice and racial equality. It was an enduring theme in his work and life.
Sixty-seven years ago this month, in January of 1955, when he was just a young pastor, Dr. King preached at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama, on the topic of “Opportunity, Fidelity, and Reward.” It was a sermon that centered on the parable of the talents that was told by Jesus, found in Matthew 25:14-30. The young pastor emphasized the point that each of us is held responsible for the talents and opportunities we are given.
Notes from this sermon are preserved in the Martin Luther King Jr. Library. In those notes Dr. King wrote, “Let us notice ... that an individual is judged not by the number of talents he possesses, but by his faithfulness in handling what he has ... Thus we are introduced to a new system of measurement. Other standards stressed quantity. Jesus stressed quality ... In computing success Jesus had his own revolutionary standards. The question is not “how much talent have you earned” but “how much faithfulness have you manifested.”
This sermon from early in the life of Dr. King presents themes that were present throughout his career and helped shape his leadership of the civil rights movement. These ideas became reality in the Montgomery bus boycott, prompted by the arrest of Mrs. Rosa Parks, a Black woman, for refusing to give up her seat to a white passenger. For 381 days, Black citizens in Montgomery refused to use the transit system – embodying Dr. King’s earlier sermon of being faithful stewards by taking action at the right time.
Dr. King’s role as a leader in the bus boycott where he helped challenge the constitutional laws of segregation catapulted him into prominence in the struggle for civil rights and racial equality. After several legal challenges, the Supreme Court ruling that segregation of buses was unconstitutional came into effect and the boycott ended.
Dr. King’s life was cut short by his assassination on April 4, 1968, but the ideals to which he gave his life continue to resonate and command our attention. His words from that sermon preached in Montgomery in 1955 still ring true for us in 2022: “ ... an individual is judged not by the number of talents he possesses, but by his faithfulness in handling what he has.”
On the third Monday of January, America celebrates the life and achievements of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. His words, life and legacy remind us that every talent matters – and that each of us has a sacred responsibility to use our talents faithfully to help end injustice and seek racial equality.