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"The Challenge of the Book of Jonah"

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Author: King, Martin Luther, Jr. (Boston University)

Date: January 1, 1951 to December 31, 1955?

Location: Boston, Mass.?

Genre: Letter

Topic: Martin Luther King, Jr. - Career in Ministry


The following sermon outlines were found among the hundreds of notecards King prepared for his courses at Boston. In the sermons King argues that God’s love is universal and inclusive of all faiths and races.

No more delightful moments can be spent than those spent reading the book of Jonah. It is one of the greatest books of the Old Testament. Its themes is both arresting and electrifying. Its unknown author appears to have possessed the vision of a Saint Paul, the satiric power of a George Bernard Shaw, and the delicious humor of a G. K. Chesterton. This book does not represent an actual occurrance any more than the parable of the prodigal son. But who can doubt the accuracy of either as portraits of of multitude of human hearts. To often have we spent our time arguing over the historicity of Biblical stories, while failing to grasp the underlying truths.

Let us look at this story for a moment and see what it has to offer us. Recall the story

  1. Tell the Story
  2. This story has within it two {three} fundamental truth that I would like to set forth
    1. God’s love is boundless and Universal
      1. God loves the Ninevite
      2. Deal with Jonah’s failure to see this and the whole Jewish attitude.
      3. Deal with Christian view. Love men because God loves them.
      4. Story of the lost sheep.
      5. There is no class system. Aunt June is just as significant as the Ph.D. The person who lives in the ally is just as worthful to God as the richest person in the community.
    2. All men are their brothers keepers and dependent on each other.

      1. Deal with Jonah’s failure to see this
      2. We are all involved in a single process and whatever effects one directly effects the other indirectly. So long as there is slavery in the world I can never be totally free.
      3. Science has made this obviously true. We must have one World or none.
      4. Quote John Donne1

      1. The poem from John Donne favored by King was “No man is an Iland, intire of it selfe; every man is a peece of the Continent, a part of the maine; if a Clod bee washed away by the Sea, Europe is the lesse, as well as if a Promontorie were, as well as if a Mannor of thy friends or of thine owne were; any mans death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankinde; And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee” (“Devotions upon Emergent Occasions,” in John Donne, Selected Prose, comp. Evelyn Simpson and ed. Helen Gardner and Timothy Healy [Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1967], p. 101). See, for example, King, “Facing the Challenge of a New Age,” 3 December 1956, MLKP-MBU.

Source: CSKC-INP, Coretta Scott King Collection, In Private Hands.

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