Dr. King often reflected on the parable of the Good Samaritan from chapter ten of Luke’s Gospel. It’s a parable told by Jesus, which many people know. In short, a man walked on the road to Jericho, he was jumped and beaten by robbers. A priest and then a Levite passed by and do not help him. Then a Samaritan, a despised person, comes to his aid. The Samaritan picks him up, dresses his wounds, takes him to an inn where he pays for his stay.
At the end of Dr. King’s last book, Where Do We Go from Here? he reflects on this parable, in light of the growing inequality between rich and poor people. And this was 1967. One can only imagine the urgency Dr. King might see in this parable for 2014.
He writes: “One day the whole Jericho Road must be transformed so that men and women will not be beaten and robbed as they make their journey through life. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it understands that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.” Few thinkers and writers of our time understand the distinction between charity and justice and sharply as Dr. King. Charity is important, of course. Giving aid to those in need must happen. But addressing why they are in need is the journey to justice. Dr. King insists we embark on that journey.
Also at the end of Where Do We Go from Here? Dr. King insists: “A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth.” We live in a time when the gap between rich and poor is no longer a gap. It’s a canyon or a desert or an ocean. In 2014, where you are born often determines the quality of your life. A child born in the Central African Republic has far diminished chances for health and fullness than a child born in London. A child born in inner-city Los Angeles even, has less opportunity than a child born in suburban Washington, D.C. Dr. King would say, “This is not just.” The problem of inequality in 2014 is a difficult one. But it is not impossible to address. Yet as long as we think we only have to take care of ourselves– or our own– we will never address it.
What might Dr. King say of our world in 2014? It’s hard to know. But I’m nearly sure he would still say “This is not just.” So the question really isn’t: what would he say. The question is: what will we do?