Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. – Romans 12:14-21
Montgomery, Alabama. January 30, 1956.
The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was attending a mass meeting to maintain support of a bus boycott that had begun nearly two months earlier. On December 5, 1955, Rosa Parks was arrested and charged with violating Montgomery’s city code requiring segregation on buses. In response, the African-American community, led by Dr. King, refused to ride city buses until the law was changed. Weeks of tension between the city leaders and the protestors were about to lead the city to the brink of disaster.
The following excerpt comes from a 1972 essay by Jane Stevenson entitled, “Rosa Parks Wouldn’t Budge.”
“On that night while Dr. King was attending one of the regular mass meetings, a bomb tossed onto the porch of his house exploded seconds later with a shattering roar. Having heard the thud as the missile landed, Mrs. King and a visiting friend had moved quickly toward the rear of the house. They and the Kings’ infant daughter escaped injury. But it looked for a time as if the chief casualty of the night would be the concept of nonviolence…
Rushing home, King found an angry crowd milling on his lawn. As he stepped from his car, he heard one black man offer to shoot it out with a white policeman who was trying to push him back… The mood of the crowd was so hostile that all of them later reported having felt that a race riot was a distinct and immediate possibility.
Dr. King went into his house, assured himself that his family was all right, and then came back to speak to the crowd. His voice was unusually quiet, and everyone else stopped speaking or moving, to listen.
‘My wife and baby are all right,’ he told them. ‘I want you to go home an put down your weapons. We cannot solve this problem through retaliatory violence… We must love our white brothers no matter what they do to us. We must make them know that we love them. Jesus still cries out across the centuries, Love your enemies. This is what we must live by…’
It was another miracle of oratory… simply, at his request, the crowd began to melt away, and with it, the tension.”
When I reflect on Dr. King and his many contributions to society, this story always comes to mind. Amid a personal attack designed to do great harm to him and his family, he had the strength to seek out God’s will in the situation. Dr. King set aside the fear and anger he must have been feeling to share a message of peace derived from Jesus’ command for us to love our enemies. It was a remarkable response that kept his nonviolent movement focused on the bigger picture, one which would ultimately have its day. On November 13, after nearly a year of ride shares and walking, the United States Supreme Court declared Alabama’s bus segregation laws unconstitutional.
It is easy to see the comparisons between the Montgomery Bus Boycott and the events that have impacted life in America over the past several months. Racial and political tensions have created a dangerously deep divide in our country. Unfortunately, there does not seem to be a solution in sight; no oratory masterpiece to calm us, no group to unite us, no court ruling to settle things for us. In fact, you could claim that we have all but abandoned the ideal that we are, “one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”
How do we restore a sense of peace and order to our society? It is only my opinion, but I think that we too must heed the words of Dr. King from that January night so many years ago. “Jesus still cries out across the centuries, ‘Love your enemies.’”
Why is this so important? We are sinful. Our actions are spiteful, based on arrogance, intolerance, and a hatred of others and their ideas. We consider our own thoughts to be exclusively correct and we are willing to say and do incredibly hurtful things to oppress those with whom we disagree. Our minds are fixed. Our ears are closed. Our hearts are hardened. Faced with this sobering truth, we can only turn to the outstretched arms of Christ to save us from the evil world we have helped create through our sin.
Thankfully, Jesus knows our sinful condition. As true man, He experienced hatred and violence firsthand. As true God, He provided us a model of how we must look directly into the face of hate with love by forgiving those who harm us – even if they do not want it or deserve it. Remember, it was Jesus, who while being crucified, asked God to forgive those people who were responsible for whipping, beating, mocking, and executing Him. If the Son of God can speak peaceful words of forgiveness from the cross, we too must be able to find words of peace that we can share with our brothers and sisters in Christ on earth.
Jesus has given us this great, undeserved gift of forgiveness. By His redeeming death and resurrection, we have had our relationship with the Father restored and by the work of the Holy Spirit, we will be with God for eternity in heaven. Until the day that Jesus leads us home, may we let Him lead us to share the gift of love with others who desperately need to feel it. Pray that our lives can reflect His love, and when our sinfulness overtakes us, allow us to seek forgiveness and make amends so that others would see Christ’s love at work in us.