Martin Luther King Jr. and me
By Jonathan Marlowe
Martin Luther King was 39 years old when he was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee. This January, I am turning 39 years old. What have I done with my life, compared with what Martin Luther King did with his?
Well, not much. But that’s OK.
Rowan Williams once said that when he gets to heaven, God will not ask him why he was not Martin Luther King; God will ask him why he was not Rowan Williams. I figure when I show up at the pearly gates, there’s a good chance that God will ask me, “Why weren’t you Jonathan Marlowe?”
God will ask: why didn’t you do the things I called you to do? Why didn’t you do the things that I uniquely equipped you to do?
I may not lead a civil rights movement, but I can help one person find a job. I may not win a Nobel Peace Prize, but I can live peacefully with my neighbor. I won’t give a speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, but I can do my best with next week’s lectionary. We sometimes focus on the great movers and shakers of history and forget that God usually works through ordinary people like you and me.
I know that faith isn’t private—God works through communities and churches and even nations. But Martin Luther King Jr. did not set out to be a great American hero. He set out to be faithful to God one day at a time, and found himself the leader of a nation-wide movement for freedom and equality. We too should begin with the little things—being faithful to our spouses, patient with a friend, gracious with an enemy, merciful with those who need our help, and generous in giving.
I doubt I’ll ever spend the night in a Birmingham jail, but I can visit someone in a Salisbury jail. I will never organize a bus boycott, but I can make a friend of one of the school bus drivers here in Rowan County. I won’t integrate a school system, but I can be a big brother to a child who needs a kind person to eat lunch with at the school. I need the church to help me be faithful in these ways, so that God won’t have to ask me, “Why weren’t you Jonathan Marlowe?”
Jonathan Marlowe is pastor of Shiloh United Methodist Church in Granite Quarry, North Carolina.