Earlier this year I had the honor to speak to the 2016 graduating class of Tuskegee University, my alma mater. The audience was filled with enthusiastic young men and women, mostly African Americans, who were now leaving the confines of this close-knit college community to go make their mark on the world.
I did not know then that my message was prophetic. God had given me a message not just for those graduates, but for a nation that would soon be reeling from tragic shootings and racial protests in cities across America.
My message was taken from Luke, chapter 10, when Jesus visits the home of Martha and Mary, and a speech given by Booker T. Washington more than 100 years ago. I titled it “Choosing the Better Part.”
While Jesus and his disciples were traveling, Jesus entered a village where a woman named Martha welcomed him as a guest. She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his message. By contrast, Martha was preoccupied with getting everything ready for their meal. So Martha came to him and said, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to prepare the table all by myself? Tell her to help me. The Lord answered, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things. One thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the better part….” Luke 10:38-42 (CEB translation).
The essence of my message was this…life brings you many choices and challenges. You often will be faced with two courses of action. It could be in your personal life, your work life, or your ministry. Some choices will be easy to make; others will be more difficult, requiring faith, self-sacrifice and courage.
In his speech, which was given in 1898, Washington called choosing the better part “the supreme test in the case of an individual…and the highest test in the case of a race or nation.” He went on to apply this supreme test to the loyalty and patriotism of the African American, citing example after example of how African Americans had demonstrated their civic duty and patriotism since the founding of America.
Washington closes his speech with a bold statement, especially for a black man in that day. In the audience were U.S. President William McKinley, most of his cabinet members, and high-ranking Navy and Army officers. Washington states,
“This country has been most fortunate in her victories...but there remains one other victory for Americans to win...we have succeeded in every conflict, except the effort to conquer ourselves in the blotting of racial prejudices…. Until we thus conquer ourselves…we shall have a cancer gnawing at the heart of the republic that shall one day prove as dangerous as an attack with an army without or within.”
Booker T. Washington made this statement to a fragile nation still healing from the racial and regional divisions that led to the American Civil War. He received a standing ovation.
Many people around the world are in a state of pain, shock, and mourning from senseless acts of murder and violence. But we must not allow hate crimes to create more hate, and heinous acts of terror to produce unrestrained acts of revenge.
Now more than ever, Christianity needs to be demonstrated and the supernatural kingdom of God needs to be manifested. When confronted with two courses of actions, we must draw from God’s love and power that are within us, and choose the better part.
God’s Love…the Better Part
For example, in the “Sermon on the Mount,” Jesus teaches His disciples about the kingdom way to respond to persecution and false accusation, “Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven…” (Matthew 5:11-12).
Jesus goes on to say, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven….” (verses 43-45 NIV).
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said it this way, “That old law about an ‘eye for an eye’ leaves everybody blind. The time is always right to do the right thing. I have decided to stick to love…Hate is too great a burden to bear.”
Like many people of color, I, too, have experienced the pain of prejudice at certain times in my life. But I have also experienced the joy, peace, and the blessings that come from God’s empowerment to choose love instead of retaliation and revenge.
The Scriptures tell us, “…if thou shalt hearken diligently unto the voice of the Lord thy God, to observe and to do all his commandments which I command thee this day, that the Lord thy God will set thee on high above all nations of the earth: And all these blessings shall come on thee, and overtake thee…” (Deuteronomy 28:1-2).
Some years ago when I worked as a computer marketing representative at IBM, my boss called me into his office and said that one of my customers told him they didn’t want a black man selling IBM’s computers to their company. If they didn’t take me off the account, IBM could keep their computers.
These words were painful and tough to hear. All kinds of thoughts began to swirl in my mind. Someone will not buy a computer because of the color of my skin? I just risked my life serving my country, fighting for him in Vietnam…a decorated fighter pilot, honorably discharged, and this man doesn’t want to buy from me because I’m African American?
My boss went on to say, “Bill, tell me what you want me to do and we will follow your lead. We can even drop this account.”
Fortunately, by this time I had received Jesus as my Lord and Savior, and, as Romans 5:5 says, “the love of God is shed abroad in our (my) heart by the Holy Ghost.”
I told him not to drop the account. “You need this sale and the company needs the revenue. Just give me another account that is of equal value and opportunity and that will settle this,” I said.
I chose the better part, and The Blessing kicked in. I went on to become top salesman in my branch office and was promoted several times, having the best years of my IBM career before I left the company to go into full-time ministry.
Love Never Fails
In the kingdom of God, our success is based on love and doing the will of the Father. Hate can never change a world. It only destroys. And violence begets violence. If we look at the great men and women throughout history who changed the world in some way, their success was founded on the principle of love and the higher good of helping other people: Moses, Joseph, Esther, Jesus, Booker T. Washington, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Mother Theresa, and the list goes on.
As I told the graduates at Tuskegee University, tests will come to each of us in every generation. At times when you choose “the better part,” it may seem like you are the weaker one, but you are not. You’re only making room for the “Greater One,” God, who called and gifted you to come to your aid and fight for you. He guarantees you the victory in every battle.
Let us be reminded that it took God’s wisdom to create this world, and it will take God’s wisdom to fix it (Proverbs 3:19). And only through faith that works by love can we access God’s wisdom.
First John 4:4 says, “You are of God, little children, and have overcome them, because He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.” The Church is the most powerful force in the world, and we have the power of the Holy Spirit within us to choose good and not evil...to choose the superior position and superior principles of the kingdom of God and not the inferior principles of the kingdom of darkness.
My prayer for America is that we will always make the right choice.