…The first question that the priest asked; the first question that the Levite asked was, “If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?” But then the Good Samaritan came by, and he reversed the question. “If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?”
That’s the question before you tonight. Not “If I stop to help the sanitation workers, what will happen to my job?” Not, “If I stop to help the sanitation workers what will happen to all of the hours that I usually spend in my office every day and every week as a pastor?” The question is not, “If I stop to help this man in need, what will happen to me?”
The question is, “If I do not stop to help the sanitation workers, what will happen to them?”
That’s the question.
(Martin Luther King, Jr: I’ve Been To the Mountaintop)
King's Mountaintop speech at The Mason Temple was delivered on the 3rd April, 1968. The following day, King was assassinated.
I have always been inspired by this speech (full text), especially how he begins. King recounts how someone once asked him 'which age would you like to live in?' He then lyrically goes on a timeline, focusing on the dramatic and extravagant peaks of world history. Red Sea. Greeks. Romans. And on. His answer finally settles on Memphis. Here. And now.
At first he acknowledges 'that's a strange statement to make, because the world is all messed up. The nation is sick. Trouble is in the land; confusion all around. That's a strange statement. But I know, somehow, that only when it is dark enough can you see the stars... something is happening in our world.'
The next part never fails to wind me.
And another reason that I'm happy to live in this period is that we have been forced to a point where we are going to have to grapple with the problems that men have been trying to grapple with through history.
Owning our time.
Owning our responsibility.
It's a speech of a lifetime.