Martin Luther King Jr., the Prophet Among Us

Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream.
— Amos 5:24

Today is Martin Luther King Jr. Day, a day to honor a great prophet to our nation. Most of us grew up hearing his speeches and, I'm sure, your news feeds will be full of some of his greatest quotes today. But I want to honor this man through the eyes of one of his close friends, a fellow voice crying out against injustice, and one of the greatest men of God in modern times, Abraham Joshua Heschel. At the 68th annual convention of the Rabbinical Assembly, Heschel said this about Dr. King: "Where does God dwell in America today? Is He at home with those who are complacent, indifferent to other people's agony, devoid of mercy? Is He not rather with the poor and the contrite in the slums? Where in America today do we hear a voice like the voice of the prophets of Israel? Martin Luther King is a sign that God has not forsaken the United States of America. God has sent him to us. His presence is the hope of America. His mission is sacred, his leadership of supreme importance to every one of us."

We have no shortage of problems in this country today, and no shortage of candidates and self-proclaimed experts with ideas to fix them. But we need more Dr. King's. We need prophets in our generation. We need leaders, but not just to lead rallies and organize marches - true leaders, who stand against injustice in their own communities and go about the hard work of righteousness, regardless of recognition or reward.

But we cannot wait for leaders to do the work for us. Our task is no different. We are not free to absolve ourselves of responsibility. The sages of Israel used to say, "In a place where there are no men, be a man." If we are in a place where the poor and afflicted are neglected, and no one stands to defend them, our task is even more important than ever. We must extend ourselves to fill a necessary role when there is no one else willing. As in the days of Esther, we too were created for such a time as this.

The Holocaust and the Crusades, two of the bloodiest atrocities in human history, were able to happen merely because of indifference and ignorance. Let us not allow those things to curse us too. A prophet walked among us only a generation ago. Our hope is not lost. Our opportunity is now. It begins in our own community. It begins today.

Daily we should take account and ask: What have I done today to alleviate the anguish, to mitigate the evil, to prevent humiliation?
Jonathan MitchellComment