Below is the full text (Edited version) of Martin Luther King Jr.’s speech on “Why Jesus Called A Man A Fool.” This event occurred on August 27, 1967.
“Why Jesus Called A Man A Fool.”
I want to share with you a dramatic little story from the gospel as recorded by Saint Luke. It is a story of a man who by all standards of measurement would be considered a highly successful man.
And yet, Jesus called him a fool.
If you will read that parable, you will discover that the central character in the drama is a certain rich man. This man was so rich that his farm yielded tremendous crops.
In fact, the crops were so great that he didn’t know what to do. And it occurred to him that he had only one alternative, and that was to build some new and bigger barns so he could store all of his crops.
“Take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry.” That brother thought that was the end of life.
But the parable doesn’t end with that man making his statement. It ends by saying that God said to him, “Thou fool. Not next year, not next week, not tomorrow, but this night, thy soul is required of thee.”
And so it was at the height of his prosperity he died.
Look at that parable. Think about it. Think of this man: If he lived in Chicago today, he would be considered “a big shot.” And he would abound with all of the social prestige and all of the community influence that could be afforded.
Most people would look up to him because he would have that something called money. And yet, a Galilean peasant had the audacity to call that man a fool.
I’d like for you to look at this parable with me and try to decipher the real reason that Jesus called this man a fool.
Number one, Jesus called this man a fool because he allowed the means by which he lived to outdistance the ends for which he lived.
You see, each of us lives in two realms, the within and the without. Now the within of our lives is that realm of spiritual ends expressed in art, literature, religion, and morality.
The without of our lives is that complex of devices, of mechanisms and instrumentalities by means of which we live. The house we live in — that’s a part of the means by which we live. The car we drive, the clothes we wear, the money that we are able to accumulate — in short, the physical stuff that’s necessary for us to exist.
Now the problem is that we must always keep a line of demarcation between the two.
This man was a fool because he didn’t do that. He didn’t make contributions to civil rights. He looked at suffering humanity and wasn’t concerned about it. He probably gave his wife mink coats, a convertible automobile, but he didn’t give her what she needed most: love and affection.
He probably provided bread for his children, but he didn’t give them any attention; he didn’t really love them. And so this man justly deserved his title. He was an eternal fool.
He allowed the means by which he lived to outdistance the ends for which he lived.
Now number two, this man was a fool because he failed to realize his dependence on others.
Now if you read that parable in the book of Luke, you will discover that this man utters about 60 words. And do you know in 60 words he said “I” and “my” more than 15 times?
This man was a fool because he said “I” and “my” so much until he lost the capacity to say “we” and “our.” This man talked like he could build the barns by himself, like he could till the soil by himself.
He failed to realize that wealth is always a result of the commonwealth. And oh my friends, I don’t want you to forget it.
No matter where you are today, somebody helped you to get there. In a larger sense we’ve got to see this in our world today.
Our white brothers must see this; they haven’t seen it up to now. The great problem facing our nation today in the area of race is that it is the black man, who to a large extent, produced the wealth of this nation. And the nation doesn’t have sense enough to share its wealth and its power with the very people who made it so.
And I know what I’m talking about this morning. The black man made America wealthy. That’s why I tell you right now, I’m not going anywhere. They can talk, these groups, some people talking about a separate state, or go back to Africa. I love Africa, it’s our ancestral home.
But I don’t know about you. My grandfather and my great-grandfather did too much to build this nation for me to be talking about getting away from it.
Before the Pilgrim fathers landed at Plymouth in 1620, we were here. Before Jefferson etched across the pages of history the majestic words of the Declaration of Independence, we were here.
Before the beautiful words of the “Star Spangled Banner” were written, we were here. For more than two centuries, our forebearers labored here without wages. They made cotton king.
With their hands and with their backs and with their labor, they built the sturdy docks, the stout factories, the impressive mansions of the South.
Now this nation is telling us that we can’t build. Negroes are excluded almost absolutely from the building trades. It’s lily white. Why?
Because these jobs pay six, seven, eight, nine and ten dollars an hour, and they don’t want Negroes to have it. And I feel that if something doesn’t happen soon, and something massive, the same indictment will come to America — “Thou fool!”
That man said he didn’t know what to do with his goods, he had so many. Oh, I wish I could have advised him. A lot of places to go, and there were a lot of things that could be done.
There were hungry stomachs that needed to be filled; there were empty pockets that needed access to money. America today, my friends, is also rich in goods.
We have our barns, and every day our rich nation is building new and larger and greater barns. You know, we spend millions of dollars a day to store surplus food.
But I want to say to America, “I know where you can store that food free of charge: in the wrinkled stomachs of the millions of God’s children in Asia and Africa and South America and in our own nation who go to bed hungry tonight.”
There are a lot of fools around. Because they fail to realize their dependence on others.
Finally, this man was a fool because he failed to realize his dependence on God. Do you know that man talked like he regulated the seasons? That man talked like he gave the rain to grapple with the fertility of the soil.
That man talked like he provided the dew. He was a fool because he ended up acting like he was the Creator, instead of a creature.
And this man-centered foolishness is still alive today. You know, a lot of people are forgetting God, people just get involved in other things.
But I tell you this morning, my friends, there’s no way to get rid of him. One day, you’re going to need him.