by Nicole Kelp, Resonate Pullman staff
“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”
We’ve all heard these famous words proclaimed by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at the Lincoln Memorial in 1963. We know the story of the Civil Rights movement and the beginning of freedom for black Americans.
But these words, and the memorialization of this movement on MLK day, are not just history. The thesis of these words should impact us daily.
When Jesus was on earth, He repeatedly challenged expectations. The Jewish religious leaders of the day expected him to only care about rich Jewish men. But Jesus instead cared about the outcasts - the poor, Samaritans and Gentiles, women, “sinners” like prostitutes and tax collectors, the disabled, and the sick.
In Luke 4:18 Jesus said “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has appointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners … and to set the oppressed free.” Right after saying this, He shared how God had used the prophets in the Old Testament to heal and care for non-Jews, and this infuriated the Jews. But this is how Jesus lived his life. He didn’t care about societal expectations of propriety. He cared about justice. King followed Jesus’ example by caring about and fighting for the oppressed.
How can we follow Jesus’ example as well?
Where in your life are you harboring prejudice and only caring for people like you, and not caring for those who are different than you or more disadvantaged than you? King talked about judging people by the content of their character instead of by the color of their skin. Including race, there are plenty of areas where you may find yourself judging people. Have you felt prejudice against someone because of nationality, immigrant status, occupation, socioeconomic class, education level, perceived social influence, gender, disability, mental illness, or appearance? We may like to think we aren’t prejudiced, but if all our friends think and look and act like us, we may be excluding others. If we don’t feed the hungry and care for the sick and hurting, Jesus says that we have failed to care for Him (Matthew 25:31-46).
If you’re able to identify an area where you harbor prejudice, what can be done then? There are two things to consider:
1. Don’t just try to “be better.”
We could set resolutions to be more inclusive, to serve the poor, to care for hurting people. But then we would just be changing behaviors and not our hearts. Jesus cared about the oppressed, but that was because He had the heart of God for people. Don’t just change your behaviors - instead pray that God would change your heart to see the broken and hurting people and desire to care for them.
2. Don’t wait.
In his speech, King said “We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of now. There is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism.” This principle applies in the Kingdom of God as well. We need to make the most of every opportunity and use our time on earth efficiently (Ephesians 5:15-16). When God has affected our hearts, we should care for others and share God’s love with them both in word and deed. This is an area where I sometimes struggle - God has burdened my heart for oppressed people, yet I don’t often do anything tangible to help them.
Near the end of his speech, King quotes the book of Isaiah by saying “I have a dream today. I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low. The rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight. And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together. This is our hope.” That Isaiah passage was also quoted in the book of Luke to describe John the Baptist as he preached and prepared the way for Jesus’ arrival. Jesus brought the Kingdom of God to earth, and that involves the high and exalted people being humbled while the oppressed people are freed. The Kingdom of God is all about changing expectations, giving grace where it’s undeserved, and valuing different things than the world does.
This MLK day, how can you live like John the Baptist, like King, and most importantly like Jesus? How can you help usher in the Kingdom of God on earth? Notice the areas in your life where you may be failing to care for the oppressed like Jesus did, ask God to change your heart, and take active steps to bring hope to the hurting or those who look or act differently than you. Then Martin Luther King’s dream - and even more importantly God’s will - can become reality in your area of influence on earth.