The Martin Luther King Jr. holiday provides each of us with an opportunity to reflect.
MLK’s life and death are a testimony to someone who was willing to stand on behalf of justice to a point where it literally cost him everything. His life, his family, his finances, his home, his health, and his sense of peace were constantly under threat because he took a stand against legalized segregation and injustice. The forces of oppression relentlessly opposed him to the point that he was brutally murdered.
Dr. Martin Luther King was a peacemaker. Most people would agree that his legacy and the life he lived are exceptional. But let us not forget that we who call ourselves disciples of Jesus Christ are also called “peacemakers” (Matthew 5:9). In light of this identity we must remember a simple truth – peace can only be made in places and relationships where it’s currently missing. Places and people that are missing peace usually present us with an element of risk and even danger. To create peace in places of chaos requires courage, self-sacrifice, hope, and staying power. These are all qualities that Dr. King lived out in his pursuit to create peace through integration and equality.
The great scapegoat of being a peacemaker is opting out to be a “peacekeeper.” In such a role we spend our time, energy, and finances protecting and insulating the peace that we have already established for ourselves and our loved ones. We focus our attention on mitigating risk and avoiding danger. When it comes to seeking the peace of the marginalized, the orphan, the widow, and the sojourner we tend to express indifference at best. Dr. King’s words in his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” to eight white ministers in 1963 still ring true today when he wrote, “I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negroes’ great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizens’ “Counciler” or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice…”
All of us who follow Jesus must wrestle with whether or not we are living the life of a peacemaker or of a peacekeeper. Are we promoting the Gospel in word and deed or simply seeking a moderate and indifferent position towards a hurting world? Are we willing to entertain risk and danger to give vulnerable people protection? Thankfully our Savior Jesus Christ was the ultimate Prince of Peace who left the comforts and peace of heaven to invade our sin-strangled world with hope and justice. His generous act of love cost Him His life and in return gave us ours.