One of my favorite Martin Luther King, Jr. sermons is, “The Answer to a Perplexing Question” based on Matthew 17:19, “Why couldn’t we cast him out?” In the sermon, King says, “The problem that has always hampered man has been his inability to conquer evil by his own power. In pathetic amazement, he asks, ‘Why can I not cast it out? Why can I not remove this evil from my life?’”
Why can’t we stop the violence?
The question in regard to the violence we continue to experience is “Why can’t we stop it?” We want to stop it. We try, in our own ways to stop it. Why can’t we stop the violence?
King says we have usually pursued two paths to eliminate evil and to save the world. I would say the same in regard to the ongoing violence.
- The first is that we try to remove evil through our own power and ingenuity. It is a strange conviction that by thinking, inventing, and governing, we will conquer the “nagging forces of evil.”
- The second idea for removing evil from the world stipulates that if we wait submissively upon the Lord, in God’s own good time, God alone will redeem the world.
King asks, “What then is the answer to life’s perplexing question? How can evil be cast out of our individual and collective lives? If the world is not to be purified by God alone nor by man alone, who will do it?”
If we want move beyond the rhetoric of simply asking the perplexing question to living the answer perhaps we need to pursue a third way.
A Third Way
King answers the question this way, “The answer is found in an idea which is distinctly different from the two we have discussed, for neither God nor man will individually bring the world’s salvation.” King says that it will take a partnership between God and humanity.
What does a partnership between God and humanity entail? Much more and much less than you might suspect.
King notes, “…both man and God, made one in a marvelous unity of purpose through an overflowing love as the free gift of himself on the part of God and by perfect obedience and receptivity on the part of man, can transform the old into the new and drive out the deadly cancer of sin.”
For Dr. King, faith opens the door for God to work through us. The disciples lacked faith when they desperately tried to remove the nagging evil from the body of the sick child (Matthew 17:14-23). Jesus points out what may now appear obvious: they had been attempting to do by themselves what could only be done with God. When their lives are open receptacles for God’s strength to be freely poured. We are reminded faith leads us into a partnership with God.
We Cannot Do It Alone
King continues, “One cannot remove an evil habit by mere resolution nor by simply calling on God to do the job, but only as he surrenders himself and becomes an instrument of God. We shall be delivered from the accumulated weight of evil only when we permit the energy of God to come into our souls.”
Here is where King notes we can find the answer to our perplexing question. Evil can be cast out. We cannot do it alone. God is not going to do it for us. Evil will be cast out as we open the door and invite God through Christ to enter in. To the church of the twenty-first century, the invitation remains:
“Listen! I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will a come in to you and eat with you, and you with me.” –Revelation 3:20
Prayer for the Day
Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace;
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
And where there is sadness. Joy.
O Divine Master,
Grant that I may not so much seek
To be consoled as to console;
To be understood, as to understand;
To be loved, as to love;
For it is in giving that we receive,
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
-Francis of Assisi