19 They said to one another, “Here comes this dreamer. 20 Come now, let us kill him and throw him into one of the pits. Then we will say that a fierce animal has devoured him, and we will see what will become of his dreams.” (Genesis 37:19-20)
Genesis 37:19-20 is on a plaque outside room 306 of the Lorraine Hotel in Memphis, Tennessee, where Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated. It is meant to evoke King’s most famous speech, and what is indisputably one of the greatest speeches in American history—the “I Have a Dream” speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.
The Lorraine Hotel is now the location of the National Civil Rights museum.
Fifty-plus years later, we are still waiting to see what will become of King’s dreams. If you began this plan at the beginning of the year, then a week ago today we observed Martin Luther King’s birthday. In my home state of Alabama, there are still those who observe Robert E Lee’s birthday on the same day. I know someone who works for a Christian organization. Last week, she heard one of her coworkers say, “Personally, I would much rather remember Robert E Lee’s birthday than Martin Luther King’s.” I’m not sure what she meant by that. Not sure I want to know.
There are those who complain about how much we make heroes out of flawed people. They mention allegations of Dr King’s infidelity. It’s strange to me that I was having that conversation with someone a couple of days ago who is doing the same reading plan I am. Which means we’ve both spent our quiet time reading stories of Abraham, Isaac, Sarah, Jacob, Rachel— deeply flawed individuals that we still name our kids after.
On the other hand, we also make villains out of decent people whose biggest flaw was that they were a product of the times in which they lived. There were people who framed the Constitution, fought bravely and honorably in war, advanced science and medicine, and even preached convicting sermons, who nevertheless could not escape the prejudices of their paradigm.
If the Bible teaches us anything, it’s that God uses adulterers, cheaters, drunks, liars, doubters, harlots, zealots, killers, bigots, and thieves to accomplish his purposes.
We will get to the end of the Joseph story in the next few days. If this is not your first time through the Bible, then you know that it ends with redemption, and with Joseph’s amazing statement of faith to his brothers, “What you intended for evil, God meant for good” (Gen. 50:20).
And in many ways, the same can be said for the legacy of Martin Luther King. What an assassin meant for evil was used for good, as MLK’s death became the catalyst for a lot of positive change.
And yet, there is still much to be done. In recent years it seems we have lost ground in the fight against racism. To paraphrase King himself, we can praise God that we aren’t where we used to be, but we sure are not where we want to be. There are many days in which “what will become of his dreams” is still very much an open question.