“But there is something that I must say to my people, who stand on the warm threshold which leads into the palace of justice: In the process of gaining our rightful place, we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred. We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again, we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force.” — Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Since today is a day set aside in our country to remember not only Martin Luther King, but also the civil rights movement he so well represented, I decided to read and listen to the text of his famous speech given on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on August 28, 1963. Although the entire speech is powerful and crescendos with the famous “I have a dream” section, I found the text above to be extremely powerful. It reminds me of another speech given to oppressed people struggling for their own personal dignity and longing for freedom from the cruel government of the day. They desired a Messiah to deliver their freedom by force, but the most unlikely of heroes gave them another course of action to take.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you. 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 sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
To be perfectly honest, I only know what the history books, internet sites, and television reports tell me about Dr. King. I do not claim to be a Dr. King historian. But on a day where our nation declared his birthday a holiday, I can at least reflect and appreciate the Christ-like attitude he exemplified in his quest for the rightful freedom of his people. I can be challenged by his non-violent response to those that caused him harm. He embodied “turn the other cheek” and “love your enemies.”
So I wish you a Happy Martin Luther King Day. Let us celebrate his life & death today, and every day, by owning the words of Jesus in Matthew 5 as he did.