This "Speaking of Religion" piece follows the one that I wrote for the Banner which appeared in the Saturday, Jan. 26, issue and followed the celebration of Martin Luther King’s birthday on Monday the 21st -- now a National Holiday. I felt it still appropriate to follow that emphasis this month as well -- addressing in particular the relationship of M.L.King to Jesus. Even though the lives of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Jesus were separated by 2000 years, their lives and messages were linked through a common creator and a common experience. King was born and raised in Atlanta, Georgia in a Baptist preacher’s family. Martin had humble beginnings like Jesus who was born to a carpenter in Bethlehem and raised in Nazareth. Both grew up in religious families and became teachers and preachers who traveled from place to place. They both preached love, peace and hope. Both lived the value of non-violent engagement, which led to their violent deaths. Both were loved by the oppressed and vilified by the establishment.
Jesus sought to bring in outsiders -- the poor, the lame, the hungry, the sick. King sought to give the poor, African Americans and even garbage collectors a voice, a vote, and a job and their rights. King marched, preached, taught, and prophesied. He was beaten, spat upon, imprisoned, investigated and threatened. Jesus walked, preached, taught and prophesized, and also did signs and wonders. He too was beaten, spat upon, imprisoned and threatened.
To achieve their goals of inclusion, both Jesus and King used non-violence to promote their beliefs. Jesus preached love thy neighbor. He disappointed first century religious revolutionaries. They were looking for a savior with a sword. Jesus said, "The Spirit of the Word is upon me, because He has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor." (The Gospel of Luke, Chapter 4). Jesus said, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind and your neighbor as yourself." (Luke, Chapter 10).
Martin Luther King said: "The ultimate measure of someone is not where they stand in moments of comfort and convenience, but where they stand at times of challenge and controversy."
Jesus and King were drum majors for justice, they were walkers for justice and peace, and preachers of love. It is rare to see two messages and lives so intertwined. Maybe Ghandi and King or Ghandi and Jesus or Mother Teresa and King. Each of these lives have several things in common. They chose to be among the poor. They chose love over hate and non-violence over combat. They chose to be healers at the margins of life. They chose humility with the poor and courageousness in the face of injustice and forgiveness seeking both righteousness and compassion. Perhaps that is why King and Jesus are so much alike: setting out to do the best at what God called them to do and loving God and their neighbors. Are we not called to do just that: loving God with all of our hearts, minds, and souls and our neighbors as ourselves: seeing Jesus in the eyes of the poor and oppressed so that the poor and oppressed see Jesus, in you? Let us keep the Faith.
David J. Bort is a retired local pastor and a member of the Interfaith Council.