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When reflecting on Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s 94th birthday, I want to draw your attention to one of Dr. King's profound and perhaps lesser-known sermons. Dr. King first reflected on Luke’s Gospel chapter 12:16- 21. 

There was a rich man whose land produced a bountiful harvest. He asked himself, “What shall I do, for I do not have space to store my harvest?” After reflecting for a moment, he said, “This is what I shall do: I shall tear down my barns and build larger ones. There I shall store all my grain and other goods and I shall say to myself, ‘Now as for you, you have so many good things stored up for many years, rest, eat, drink, be merry!’” But God said to him, “You fool, this night your life will be demanded of you; and the things you have prepared, to whom will they belong? Thus will it be for the one who stores up treasure for himself but is not rich in what matters to God.”

After reflecting long and hard on this parable, Dr. King preached a simple but intriguing sermon entitled, "Why does Jesus call this man a fool?"  

As a young boy, my parents taught me to respect everyone and never call someone outside their name. But I wondered why God would call a man a fool. We all know that a fool is someone without reason or displays senseless behavior. Let us recall that the man in the gospel narrative appears neither irrational nor dishonest. He wisely invests in the land God blesses him with, and the land produces a great harvest. Thus, the man's economic status alone is not the cause for God calling this man a fool.  So, in what way was he foolish?

Dr. King offers several practical reasons why God calls this man a fool, one significant reason being that he fails to acknowledge his dependence on others. Counting how often "I" and "my" appear in this short 64-word parable, Dr. King finds that "I" appears six times and "my" four times. To Dr. King, Brother Man must have misunderstood where and how his blessing came. Brother Man fails to realize that wealth is always the result of many parties investing in the commonwealth. No one generates money in isolation. Those who accrue wealth do so only after interacting with the community.  

Uniting as a community, folks share their time and talents in creating a product or service that additional community members invest in by sharing their life-sustaining resources. In this way, many people come together to build “commonwealth,” even if some reduce it to personal wealth.  As our ancestors taught, “Many hands make light work” (African proverb). A proponent of the “beloved community” and its role in the commonwealth, Dr. King reminds us that, wherever you are in society, you must never forget that someone helped you get there. Those with privilege must share, not hoard. 

Dr. King notes that men and women are foolish for not understanding the last verse of the parable: "Thus will it be for the one who stores up treasure for himself but is not rich in what matters to God." In Luke’s gospel, Jesus came “to bring glad tidings to the poor.”  He came to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free.” We serve a liberating God who desires that we help the poorest of the poor, set those in bondage free, and make the blind see. Doing so makes us rich in what matters to God. 

Culture commands policy, policy commands economics, and economics create educational opportunities. When God blesses us, we should return to our communities and share our blessings–build the “beloved” culture, make political choices that uplift the common good, and strengthen our economic base. Investing in each other is what commonwealth is about. 

More than ever, God expects us to unite and address “what matters most to God.” We are foolish and misguided if we do not challenge lawmakers like those in Huntington Beach, California, who recently rescinded Black History Month and Pride Month (December 2024). This is an attack on our culture. Not addressing such policies criminalizes teachers who incorporate Black History Month lessons in their curriculum. Policy impacts education.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is also manipulating public school curricula, arguing that Black people may have benefited from being enslaved. But weren’t specific Africans stolen and enslaved because of the skills they already possessed?  Church, this tearing down and reconstructing of national history is not a new tactic. John C. Calhoun–a U.S. senator who served as vice president under Andrew Jackson from 1828 to 1832–vigorously defended the institution of slavery, insisting it was "positive and good."  Culture lays the ground floor for economics.

Reverend Dr. Carl Johnson launched a statewide task force in conjunction with the Florida General Baptist Convention, Inc. to demand that the governor of Florida and the State Department of Education teach Black history accurately, factually, and forthrightly. In the spirit of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., in Florida, they organized a task force labeled "Teaching Our History." 

I could go on and on. My point is that, as Black people, we must be God’s storehouse of love, faith, and truth for the commonwealth. We must lift our chairs and take up space at the policy-making table so that justice is neither denied nor delayed. Our cultural icon, Langston Hughes, has encouraged us to do so:

We would be foolish not to take our rightful place at policy tables. What matters most to God is that we ensure sufficient money is being allocated to our communities and neighborhoods to have safe schools that teach the truth of this country’s history. We must build grocery stores that promote healthy eating. God wants us to invest our time, talent, and treasures in these culture-shaping matters. To do so, you and I must depend on God–something the rich man failed to do. In turn, God will open doors for those who trust Him.  This is the rock-solid truth our ancestors stood on.   

At the end of Dr. King's sermon, he admonishes, "Don't be a fool. Recognize your dependence on God. As the days become dark and then nights become dreary, realize that there is a God who rules above.” Living every day under the threat of death, Dr. King acknowledged feeling discouraged, but he pressed on.

The bottom line is, don’t be foolish. Trust in God’s everlasting love. The proverb writer said it best, “Trust in the LORD with all your heart, on your own intelligence do not rely; In all your ways be mindful of him, and he will make straight your paths” (Pro. 3:5-6) Yes, God will direct us to invest in matters that please our spirit and not our flesh. 

Listen to Dr. King's sermon "Why Jesus Calls a Man a Fool?" here:

Author: Evang./Prof. Michael Howard, MACS

Facilitator, University of Dayton, VLCFF,

University of Notre Dame, McGrath Institute, STEP Online,

Lead Faculty and Course Designer "The Presence of Black Catholics in the Church Today and Tomorrow" Loyola Marymount University,

Founder of Eat the Scroll Ministry

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