The Solid Rock of Brotherhood

Today we take a national holiday to recall a man who demanded from his country the riches of freedom and the security of justice. Freedom is an easy thing to celebrate, but we talk about freedom so often that it can become trivialized. So today it is good to take a moment and reflect upon the freedom and justice that Martin Luther King Jr. pursued and to consider his contribution with more than a superficial glance.

The freedom and justice King sought were not vague and abstract, not a freedom to act without constraint nor a justice that is merely an absence of injustice; they are oriented toward something specific: brotherhood. In his I Have a Dream speech he “finds himself an exile in his own land,” and declared that “now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God’s children.”

King desired a brotherhood that is deeper than that envisioned by postmodern philosophers or secular humanists; he desired a Christian brotherhood. After all, as he noted in his Letter from Birmingham Jail, he was “in the rather unique position of being the son, the grandson and the great grandson of preachers,” as well as being a preacher himself. And so he seeks a fraternity that is founded upon mercy and truth. Regarding the truth about human dignity he said in his most famous speech: “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” Regarding mercy and forgiveness, King hoped that “the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.”

The brotherhood that King sought is not only Christian, but ultimately perfected in a particular eschatological vision. It is expressly a brotherhood of eternity, present in some way now but consummated when “justice rolls down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream” (Am 5:24). This fraternity will be fulfilled in the Second Coming of Christ when—King cites the Prophet Isaiah—“every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight; and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together” (Is. 40:4-5). King, by working for unity here on Earth, anticipates the unity in Heaven that only Christ can bring about. It is an ambitious dream. But it is a dream worth dreaming; and we ought to desire nothing less.

There is a (possibly apocryphal) story that Thomas Jefferson, when penning the Declaration of Independence, originally began with the phrase “all men are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and property.” It would have been faithful to Locke, that political philosopher who exercised so much influence over the founding fathers. But writing “property” instead of “the pursuit of happiness” would have been small-minded. Thankfully the much greater, and much more authentically American, “pursuit of happiness” is what we inherit.

Yet how often do we pursue a shrunken happiness in property, or power, or affirmation, rather than the greatness of authentic freedom? How often do we fail to dream of a fraternity of humankind brought about when “the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together”?

It sometimes seems that today’s dreamers, today’s heirs to King and his legacy, don’t dare to dream with his audacity. Some dream of purely political gains and social movements, not the happiness of a brotherhood wrought by God. Merely political and social changes are necessary but not the end; they are only worth fighting for because, if they are true and just and merciful, they prepare the way for the Lord. When we dream of His coming, when we prepare His way in our own lives, in our relationships with others, and in our political engagements, only then do we hasten the day when our nation will be united, as King desired, “into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood.”

Image: Marianne North, Marble Rocks, Jabalpur, Madhya Pradesh, India

You May Also Enjoy:

Happy Death It was not too long ago that I stood in a hospice center praying at the bedside of a friar in his final hours. At one point the social worker on duty came in to offer some surprising advice: leave him be. She told me that some people prefer to die alone, and that they’ll hold on until the room is empty. She described dying as “a wonderful expression of our autonomy.” Our society celebrates autonomy in all its forms, but this advice seemed particu...
Lord, Why Would You Put These People in My Life? Go ahead and put lots of exasperated emphasis on “these.” As in, “Lord, why would you put these people in my life??!” I am, of course, trying to conjure up the befuddlement we feel after a frustrating office meeting or family gathering—the kind that reveals just how disparate others’ expectations and assumptions, ideas and attitudes, personalities and temperaments can be from ours. I felt it acutely about six months after entering religio...
Losing Ourselves ¨Bob is Bob,” and “Dan is Dan;” these statements are tautologically true. Yet we also say that “Bob isn't himself today,” and this manner of speaking gets at something profound. We can, somehow, be more or less “ourselves.” But what does that mean, exactly? It doesn't mean that personhood changes or disappears, or that someone becomes someone else. Rather, it is a statement about wholeness, completeness, and integrity of life; or the lack of i...
Religion is Not Race There is a troubling tendency in our public discourse to reduce religion to race or ethnicity (the complex case of Judaism aside). On this view, religion is a more or less superficial feature of one’s identity—something akin to skin color or any other historical “accident.” Just as it would be absurd to criticize someone for their skin color or where and when they were born, so would it be absurd to criticize someone’s religion. So the thinking g...
Br. Hyacinth Grubb, O.P.

Written by:

Br. Hyacinth Grubb entered the Order in 2013. A Colorado native, he graduated from Columbia University where he studied Electrical Engineering. On DominicanFriars.org