When Jesus led the social justice movement that the Gospel calls the kingdom of God, he did so with a gut-level compassion for individuals suffering pain. As a great crowd followed Jesus, he could sense individual need so keenly that, when a woman sought healing from him secretly, he perceived “in himself that power had gone from him, and immediately turned about in the crowd and said, ‘Who touched my garments?’” (Mark 5:30). When engaged in a fierce polemic about what justice and holiness mean for God’s people, Jesus turned toward a woman near him and asked a rival leader named Simon, “Do you see this woman?” (Luke 7:44). Jesus’ gut-level compassion for individuals made him hunger and thirst for God’s beloved community of justice.
The Spirit of Jesus gave that same gut-level hunger and thirst to Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. In Rev. King’s “Letter from Birmingham City Jail,” he responded to moderate clergymen who told him that his organized opposition to racism was “unwise and untimely.” I quote from Rev. King’s response at some length to give you some feeling for its power:
I guess it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging darts of segregation to say, “Wait.” But when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim; when you have seen hate-filled policemen curse, kick, brutalize, and even kill your black brothers and sisters with impunity; when you see the vast majority of your twenty million Negro brothers smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society; when you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six-year-old daughter why she cannot go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television, and see tears welling up in her little eyes when she is told that Funtown is closed to colored children, and see the depressing clouds of inferiority begin to form in her little mental sky, and see her begin to distort her little personality by unconsciously developing a bitterness toward white people; when you have to concoct an answer for a five-year-old son asking in agonizing pathos, “Daddy, why do white people treat colored people so mean?”; when you take a cross-country drive and find it necessary to sleep night after night in the uncomfortable corners of your automobile because no motel will accept you; when you are humiliated day in and day out by nagging signs reading “white” and “colored”; when your first name becomes “nigger” and your middle name becomes “boy” (however old you are) and your last name becomes “John,” and when your wife and mother are never given the respected title “Mrs.”; when you are harried by day and haunted by night by the fact that you are a Negro, living constantly at tiptoe stance, never knowing what to expect next, and plagued with inner fears and outer resentments; when you are forever fighting a degenerating sense of “nobodyness” — then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait. There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over and men are no longer willing to be plunged into an abyss of injustice where they experience the bleakness of corroding despair. I hope, sirs, you can understand our legitimate and unavoidable impatience.
Rev. King wrote his letter in 1963. Because of him and others in his movement, I was able to receive the Lord’s Supper with fellow Christians from the African Methodist Episcopal Church in Durham, North Carolina on Maundy Thursday in 1989. In a city where our inter-racial communion would have been illegal a quarter-century earlier, I was able to experience an embodiment Galatians 3:28. Black and white Gentiles gathered for worship in the name of our Jewish Lord. Descendants of slaves and slave-owners shared the body of blood of Jesus Christ. Males and females led and participated in worship with equality. Thanks to the Spirit of Jesus at work in Rev. King and others like him, I was able to taste the Kingdom of God on earth.
As an American citizen serving as a pastor in Canada, I don’t know how much I can do in response to Charlottesville and the abominable mis-leadership of the U.S. President. One thing I can do is look forward to sharing the Lord’s Supper on Sunday with people from many different backgrounds. I hunger and thirst for that foretaste of Jesus’ feast in the kingdom of God. I hope you too will join people from “east and west and north and south and sit at table in the kingdom of God.” (Luke 13:29)