Martin Luther King will forever be known for what he did to help heal the racial divide in America. And while that is one of the greatest feats in American history, to saddle him with that moniker may well be short of his truest contribution.
For all of us, especially Christians, Martin Luther King’s life was a modern-day torch that shone brightly on our Lord’s message to his people. Which one?
In John 4, when Jesus lovingly speaks to a Samaritan woman — a member of the most despised people in the region — and asks for water with the intention of touching and drinking from her clay pitcher, he was sending a message.
In Luke 19, when Jesus dines at the house of Zacchaeus, a reviled traitor who collected taxes from Jews for Rome, he was sending a message.
In Matthew 8, when Jesus reaches out and touches the leper’s shoulder, an unthinkable act toward a group banished to the outskirts of town, he was sending a message.
Jesus was saying to each of us, Get uncomfortable with division wherever you see it.
He wasn’t saying, To those of you who are uncomfortable with division, get to work. He was delivering this doctrine: If you are in me, healing all division is your journey now.
Dr. King was deeply disturbed by the division he saw on the streets of America, but the institutionalized division seemed to gnaw at him most. The black and white bathrooms, water fountains, hotels, and the like, was governmental sanctioning of activities that form in the darkest part of the human soul.
We as a country had said yes to our own hate. Yes, to separation. Yes to racism. And Dr. King did a very Christian thing. He grew increasingly uncomfortable with it, and would not sit idly by and let it be someone else’s problem. In the process, he changed America and the world. We are all better for it.
“With this faith,” Dr. King said in his iconic 1963 speech in front of the Washington Monument, “we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood.”
In every race conversation, it’s us versus them. Culture will force us to pick one of two options. But there is actually a third option. We must honor what we all have in common. Instead of focusing on what is different, we should honor what we have in common, which is, that we were all made in the image of God. And the image of God that is in each one of us is not inferior or superior to anyone else.
We must pray that God will grant us eyes to see where divisions exist, that we grow in discomfort with it, and have a sense of urgency to step in and love. Jesus’ way and must be ours.
On Martin Luther King’s birthday, among all his historic accomplishments, let us see him as someone who shone a “great beacon light” on the division between our Lord’s intention for our lives and how we actually live. For the chance that we might follow Jesus’ prescription for our lives more closely, we should all be eternally grateful.