The Sacred Legacy of MLK

Monday of the Second Week in Ordinary Time

January 20, 2020

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Today, in Mercy, as we memorialize the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., our readings speak about leadership and its continuing call to renew the world in the image of its Creator.

In our first reading, Samuel relays God’s displeasure to Saul who, though a conquering hero, has failed in humility and obedience before the Lord. 

In the story, God has given a clear direction to Saul to obliterate Israel’s centuries-old enemy, the Amalekites. Instead Saul, after executing the masses, keeps the enemy king alive as a war trophy. He appropriates the cattle as personal spoil. He also sets up a shrine to commemorate the victory as his own.

God is not happy. When we profess to lead in God’s name we must act as God directs us. In order to understand God’s direction, we must cultivate an honest, just and merciful heart.


Martin Luther King was such a leader. By his faithful obedience to God’s inspiration, Martin, at the ultimate cost, turned the tides of history toward justice and freedom.

But the tides still need turning, because there will always be those who seek “war trophies”, and personal spoil, and domination for themselves. Our times are tortured by such selfish and failed leadership, just as all of history has been from ancient Israel until 1968 and until now.

Today, as we pray with this great prophet and leader, we ask that selfless, merciful and faith-impelled souls continue to hear the call to justice in our day. May Martin’s witness strengthen and inspire us.


Music: Precious Lord, Take My Hand – Mahalia Jackson (Lyrics below)

Per Dr. King’s request, his good friend Mahalia Jackson sang his favorite hymn, “Take My Hand, Precious Lord”, though not as part of the morning funeral service but later that day at a second open-air service at Morehouse College.

Precious Lord, take my hand
Lead me on, let me stand
I am tired, I am weak, I am worn
Through the storm, through the night
Lead me on through the light
Take my hand, precious Lord
And lead me home

When my way grows dreary
Precious Lord, lead me near
When my life is almost gone
At the river I will stand
Guide my feet, hold my hand
Take my hand, precious Lord
And lead me home

Say But the Word

Memorial of Saints Cornelius, Pope, and Cyprian, Bishop, Martyrs

Monday, September 16, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, both our readings today offer us pivotal lessons about what nourishes true leadership: faith, humility, generosity, and inclusivity.

Many of us have been blessed, especially in our young lives, with the gift of wise and loving mentors. Certainly our parents, families and teachers are among the first and most critical.

A little later, our circle of mentors widens. We look for great coaches, wise employers, guiding trainers, caring councilors, trusted friends.

Paul’s letters to Timothy and Titus are biblical examples of such mentorship. In them, the author is guiding young ministers in the art and science of loving, Christ-like leadership.

Key to such leadership in today’s reading is a steadfast commitment to prayer which covers, blesses and includes all people.

In our Gospel, the centurion demonstrates that he is a leader who values these virtues.

The Jews urging Jesus to visit the centurion say that he deserves Christ’s attention because “he loves our nation and he built the synagogue for us.

 My guess is that Jesus wasn’t impelled by this argument, but solely by his splancha – his merciful gut response to the man’s plea.

When the centurion enters the story, his humility is immediately evident: 

Lord, do not trouble yourself,
for I am not worthy to have you enter under my roof.
Therefore, I did not consider myself worthy to come to you;
but say the word and let my servant be healed.

The miracle healing, of course, is granted but that is not the most important part of the story.

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This civil leader’s acknowledgement of Christ’s sovereignty is an act of faith which serves as a model for all of us – to the extent that millennia later we echo his prayer as we prepare to receive Christ in communion.

His is a faith that places Christ at the center of all Creation, commanding the flow of grace and mercy to all creatures. That faith allows the centurion to care even for a suffering servant. It allowed him to support the worship even of a dominated people.

Timothy and Titus have shown that kind of faith. They are the next generation who will carry Christ’s legacy passed to them by Paul. He wants them to understand that humility, largeness of heart, kindness and steadfastness open the way for God’s life-giving will for all people.

Whether, in our current life state, we are leader, or protégé, or both, how do these readings help us to make a clearer way for God in the world? That’s what real leadership is all about. And, as Paul says, we learn it in prayer.

Video: a representation of Luke’s version of this Gospel story:

Faith of Centurion