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2’s Day: Jesus and MLK

by Bishop Todd Hunter

2’s Day caught my attention. The prospect of celebrating 2s on 2/22/22 made me think of pairs. And because it’s Black History Month, I thought specifically of Jesus and Martin Luther King, Jr.  

MLK worked on issues of racial injustice, but he was yoked to the person Jesus. We understand MLK best when we understand his ministry as being expressive of the person, purposes, values, public posture, and practices of Jesus.

Jesus Said Love Your Enemies and Bless Those Who Curse You.
Luke 6:27, 28 

On the night his house was bombed, MLK, after making sure his wife and young daughter were not injured, went out onto the porch. Standing amid the twisted and torn damage of dynamite, and surrounded by a terrorized and angry crowd, MLK manifested the spirit of Jesus and said: 

Don’t get your weapons. He who lives by the sword will perish by the sword. Remember that is what God said. We are not advocating violence. We want to love our enemies. Love them and let them know you love them. 

I want it to be known the length and breadth of this land that if I am stopped, this movement will not stop. If I am stopped, our work will not stop. For what we are doing is right. What we are doing is just. And God is with us.[1]

Jesus Said Love and Do Good to All.
Luke 6:32, 33

MLK possessed a heart bent toward the worldview of Jesus. He envisioned, and insisted upon, the creation of a beloved community for all—every race, tribe, and nation. A community that lifts up the poor and makes war unthinkable. Pointing to the selflessness, the interrelatedness, and interdependence implied in his moral, communal vision, he said that “other preservation is the first law of life…[that] self-concern without other-concern is like a tributary that has no outward flow to the ocean…it becomes stagnant, still and stale, it lacks both life and freshness.”[2]

Jesus Said Love Is More Important Than All Burnt Offerings and Sacrifices.
Mark 12:33

MLK, taking Jesus seriously, said in his book, Strength to Love

Love is the most durable power in the world…the highest good is love…it is at the center of the cosmos…it is the great unifying force in life. God is love. The greatest of all virtues is love. He who loves has discovered the clue to the meaning of ultimate reality; he who hates stands in immediate candidacy for nonbeing.  

In a world depending on force, coercive tyranny, and bloody violence, we are challenged to follow the way of love. 

Jesus Said You Give God a Tenth…But You Neglect Justice.
Luke 11:42

MLK taught that Christians are bound to recognize any passionate concern for social justice. Such concern is basic in the Christian doctrine of the Fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man. MLK wrote in Strength to Love

Philanthropy is marvelous, but it must not cause the philanthropist to overlook the need for working to remove many conditions of economic injustice which make philanthropy necessary…justice is love correcting that which would work against love. 

Jesus Said Love Was the Core Characteristic of Discipleship.
John 13:34, 35

We might imagine MLK being comforted by Jesus: “Martin, I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you (John 15:19). But Martin, anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life (John 12:25). In fact, Martin, greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends (John 15:12).”

MLK received multiple death threats, including a knife attack in 1958 and the bombing of his home. He knew it was likely he would die leading the Civil Rights Movement. He could not have predicted the precise millisecond in which the bullet flew to its target, but he had, through a soul animated by greater love, given his life to God in service to The Beloved Community multiple times before.

The assassination took place when MLK was in Memphis to secure economic justice and livable working conditions for sanitation employees. He stood on the concrete second-story balcony of the Lorraine Hotel, a place with historical significance to the Black community. He was dressed in his usual dark suit and tie, holding gently to the dark metal railing, surrounded by friends and co-workers. At that moment, the bullet flew.

 Jesus was the once-for-all embodiment of self-sacrifice. MLK walked in the way of Jesus. He was a servant who followed the Servant. As we walk in the way of that pair, we live in harmony and rhythm with God and his kingdom.

[1] https://www.washingtonpost.com/history/2021/01/18/mlk-house-bombed-montgomery-bus-boycott/

[2] Where To From Here, 190.

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