Martin Luther King, Jr., Jesus, and the Old Testament
I get daily reflections from Richard Rohr sent to my e-mail every day. Sometimes I read them, sometimes I don’t. Today, on MLK day, I decided to read (and plus, my husband had sent me an e-mail saying he was chewing on what he read).
The question of the day from the e-mail is: What does Martin Luther King, Jr.’s message tell me about worldly systems and violence?
Here’s the text from the e-mail. It’s short, and better if you just read it as-is, rather than me trying to summarize:
Jesus undercut the basis for all violent, exclusionary and punitive behavior. He became the forgiving victim, so we would stop creating victims ourselves. He became the falsely accused one, so we would be careful whom we accuse.
Any worldly system actually prefers violent partners to nonviolent ones; it gives them a clear target and a credible enemy. Empires are actually relieved to have terrorists to shoot at and Barabbas figures loose on the streets. Types like Jesus, Martin Luther King and Gandhi make difficult enemies for empires. They cannot be used or co-opted.
The powers that be know that nonviolent prophets are a much deeper problem because they refuse to buy into the very illusions that the whole empire is built on, especially the myth of redemptive violence. Like Jesus, they live instead a life of redemptive suffering.
One phrase that keeps ringing through my head is “the myth of redemptive violence.”
I left this reading thinking about Jesus and Martin Luther King, Jr. I left thinking about Jesus’ words, “Blessed are the peacemakers.” I felt good. I felt thankful.
Then I picked up my Bible. I’m in the middle of David’s reign in 2 Samuel (in the Bible in 90 Days readings) – and none of this computes with what I was pondering in light of Jesus and MLK. I was so relieved to get to Solomon this morning and his peaceful reign – building palaces, making beautiful things – that I just kept reading. It was nice to have a break from the slaughtering and pillaging and war that plagued David’s reign and the reign of other judges and rulers.
But even in the story of Solomon, the themes are stained with violence. This just leaves me so confused.
I know scholars have written pages and pages and pages trying to reconcile this violence in the Old Testament, but today, for me, it was especially disturbing.
So to narrow my thoughts and not get caught up in questions I can’t answer today, I focused on Jesus. And as I read the stories of the Old Testament – the confusing humiliations of the living and the dead, war after war after war, rape, incest, and more murder – I began to think of the stark contrast of Jesus’ message, and how radical it must have sounded to those who heard him…and how radical it is for us today – for empires today, for people today.
We are still a people prone to violence. We still carry dark hearts and ill intentions.
But Jesus’ message of peace – in heart, mind, spirit, soul – really is redemptive and most certainly radical.
I still don’t understand half of what I’m reading in the Old Testament, and I certainly don’t know how to reconcile it with the New Testament. But for today, on a day that celebrates a man who brought hope and reconciliation through non violence, I am fixing my mind on the promises of Jesus.
“Blessed are the peacemakers.”