Finishing What the Master Started
The commencement speaker last June at the graduation ceremonies of our son, Jonathan, from Dartmouth College was Geoffrey Canada, an African-American who for the last twenty years has been the president of Harlem Children’s Zone and a pioneer of education reform for the most disadvantaged areas of America’s inner cities.
Mr. Canada offered a humble confession:
‘I would love to say to you that my generation has accomplished the dream of being a better generation than that of my parents. Alas, we have not. While my generation has done real good and made real progress, we have also left you a real mess. We have damaged the environment. We have overseen the highest incarceration rate of any nation on earth. We have not cured child poverty. It’s not that we haven’t done any good, but we haven’t kept our promise to eliminate those places where our children don’t have a chance. America’s children are more imperiled than ever. But maybe that’s all right. Maybe our job was simply to start the good work, and your job, the job of the Class of 2013, is to finish it.’
With the call to finish the good work still ringing in our ears, Canada quoted from his favorite speech of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. – not the ‘I Have a Dream’ speech delivered at the Lincoln Memorial to a throng of 250,000 people on August 28, 1963, but ‘The Mountain Top’ speech delivered to a small congregation in a church called Mason Temple in Memphis, Tennessee. The entire speech is gripping, but the closing words are especially memorable:
‘And [so I’ve come] to Memphis, and some [have begun] to talk about the threats out there, about what could happen to me from some of our sick white brothers. Well, I don’t know what will happen to me now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And he’s allowed me to go up to the mountaintop. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land! And so I’m happy tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man! Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.’
The next morning, an assassin’s bullet felled the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. Tragically, his powerful voice became silent. But not his good work. What he started, others would finish.
It reminds me of the last speech of Jesus Christ before his departure from this earth, in which he rallied his people to finish what he had started, the greatest work of all: calling people near and far to receive newness of life, resurrection life, times of refreshing, forgiveness of sins, a path of life full of gladness, full of heaven’s blessings come to earth. All this, through repentance towards God and faith in the Author of life, the one who came to die and rise again, Jesus Christ himself. (Acts 2 and 3)
As followers of Jesus Christ, this is now our call, and it couldn’t be more magnificent: to finish the good work he began.