You see, the Jericho road is a dangerous road. I remember when Mrs. King and I were first in Jerusalem. We rented a car and drove from Jerusalem down to Jericho. And as soon as we got on that road, I said to my wife, "I can see why Jesus used this as a setting for his parable." It’s a winding, meandering road. It’s really conducive for ambushing. You start out in Jerusalem, which is about 1200 miles, or rather 1200 feet above sea level. And by the time you get down to Jericho, fifteen or twenty minutes later, you’re about 2200 feet below sea level. That’s a dangerous road. In the days of Jesus it came to be known as the "Bloody Pass." And you know, it’s possible that the priest and the Levite looked over that man on the ground and wondered if the robbers were still around. Or it’s possible that they felt that the man on the ground was merely faking. And he was acting like he had been robbed and hurt, in order to seize them over there, lure them there for quick and easy seizure. And so the first question that the Levite asked was, "If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?" But then the Good Samaritan came by. And he reversed the question: "If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?"

What the hagiographies of King fail to get across is that you don’t need to be the master rhetoritician that King was or a saintly, selfless figure to do good in the world. You just have to be willing to recognize the difference between right and wrong and to stop for a moment to do something about it.

Public Enemy’s last great song is a historical artifact now that even Arizona honors Martin Luther King’s birthday with a holiday. Unfortunately, Dr. King now inhabits a similar role in the American iconography as Washington or Lincoln. It’s an odd term to use for a man who was "the son, the grandson and the great-grandson of preachers", as his masterful "Letter from Birmingham Jail" put it, but King has become a secular saint. It’s not a fair characterization of a complicated man. Reading about his epic struggles with Richard Daley gave me more of an impression of how he operated as a politician. J. Edgar Hoover’s attempts to ruin him as a symbol of the civil rights movement (which transformed from an investigation of Communist influence at the Southern Christian Leadership Center to a pure smear campaign focussed on King’s sexual proclivities) brought to light not just a government agency that had gone out of control but also a very human, very fallible man. In his last speech, given in support of striking sanitation workers in Memphis the day before he was assassinated, Dr. King lectured on the parable of the Good Samaritan:

You see, the Jericho road is a dangerous road. I remember when Mrs. King and I were first in Jerusalem. We rented a car and drove from Jerusalem down to Jericho. And as soon as we got on that road, I said to my wife, "I can see why Jesus used this as a setting for his parable." It’s a winding, meandering road. It’s really conducive for ambushing. You start out in Jerusalem, which is about 1200 miles, or rather 1200 feet above sea level. And by the time you get down to Jericho, fifteen or twenty minutes later, you’re about 2200 feet below sea level. That’s a dangerous road. In the days of Jesus it came to be known as the "Bloody Pass." And you know, it’s possible that the priest and the Levite looked over that man on the ground and wondered if the robbers were still around. Or it’s possible that they felt that the man on the ground was merely faking. And he was acting like he had been robbed and hurt, in order to seize them over there, lure them there for quick and easy seizure. And so the first question that the Levite asked was, "If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?" But then the Good Samaritan came by. And he reversed the question: "If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?"

What the hagiographies of King fail to get across is that you don’t need to be the master rhetoritician that King was or a saintly, selfless figure to do good in the world. You just have to be willing to recognize the difference between right and wrong and to stop for a moment to do something about it. None