Yesterday all across America we celebrated the life of a prophet, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Many sang and prayed and marched and listened to soaring rhetoric, exhorting us not to let his dream die. This annual ritual prompts us to remember what he gave his far too young life for, and it invites us to renew our work for justice in our world. I imagine that those who were his contemporaries wonder "how long O Lord..." must we bear with unfinished business. I wonder if those who have not borne such costs want to shoulder the present generations' responsibility. Transformation requires all of us, truly. Have we picked up the mantle that is ours?
Recently I read a Thomas Merton book that somehow I missed along the way. Seeds of Destruction, written in 1964, narrates his profound appreciation of Dr. King and his belief that white society has betrayed Christ by its injustices to races it considered "inferior." Provocatively Merton suggests that the "Negro" (his language in that epoch) is offering an occasion "to enter with him into a providential reciprocity willed for us by God." He argued perceptively for the humility required of white Americans to follow the lead of one who would rather suffer injustice than inflict it.
Like John the Baptist of old, King came "as a witness to testify to the light" (John 1: 7). John understood that his call was to follow the "Lamb of God," and he pointed beyond himself. In the second week after the Epiphany, the Gospel reading (John 1:29-42) compels us to reflect on what following the Lamb entails. For the early disciples it meant departing from home, re-orienting their lives as fishers, and learning to abide in the company of the one perpetually on the move. Dr. King and his inner circle well knew this reality. Their lives were no longer their own, and they kept going only because of their conviction that God's arc of history was toward justice.
Gently, Jesus invites these Galileans to "come and see." Soon we observe, as we follow the story of James and John, Andrew and Simon Peter, that the call of God is personal, but not private. Jesus has called them to new life, and Jesus has called them to live their faith sacrificially. "Providential reciprocity" is a way of life that is fundamentally different when in the company and service of Christ. The Civil Rights movement of the 1960's is built on the foundation of Jesus own messianic way of self-giving.
We give thanks to God for calling our Christian brother, Martin, to a life of following a non-violent lamb. We give thanks for his form of discipleship, for he lived with the echoes of Jesus' call ever reverberating in his speech and actions. He did not betray Christ, but embodied him anew. Through God's providence we can move toward a more just and reciprocal community, indeed, a beloved one.
Molly T. Marshall
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