Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is a great American hero. He practiced the noble art of nonviolent opposition to injustice in the same way that Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela practiced. He led peaceful demonstrations against those in authority to defeat practices such as segregation, racial discrimination and unequal treatment under the law. All three of these leaders followed peaceful teachings to attain victory over the evils of their day.
King was a peacemaker. He confronted fierce hatred in an environment in which opposition came from both sides, white and black. I was with King in Selma, Alabama, for nearly a week. A Protestant minister had been shot and killed there the week before, and American bishops had sent priests to Selma to express our solidarity with the protesters.
I think of him when I see stores that have been burned down in places like Ferguson, Missouri, as a sign of outrage. I believe this is counterproductive. There is no need for violent demonstrations. Can it bring real reform? I believe violence only brings more heat than light to explosive situations.
I don’t believe in a violent strategy in search for equality. No monuments are built to honor those who favor violence.
The words of Jesus apply to leaders and peacemakers such as King: “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”
Upon deeper refection, King’s life brings us back to the idealism of Jesus, who despised the arrogance of the Pharisees. These Jewish leaders laid heavy burdens upon the people, and we hear in Matthew 23:4, “They tie up heavy burdens (hard to carry) and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they will not lift a finger to move them.”
The Lord fearlessly rebuked them. It follows therefore that when Jesus asked us to be meek and humble of heart, he wasn’t encouraging timidity in the face of evil. He was suggesting defiance, but a kind of nonviolent opposition, which has as its goal ultimate victory over the forces of evil and injustice.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus spoke of the importance of being “poor in spirit.” This is part of the Beatitudes, which the pope has urged to us memorize because “blessed” are the meek, the merciful, the clean of heart, the peacemakers, the persecuted.
“Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven,” we’re told.
These words of Jesus heeded by King continue to give encouragement to others like him who can remain steadfast in the fight against injustice. King approached this cause with a child-like spirit.
He understood the phrase, “turn the other cheek,” and knew that nonviolence was not a sign of weakness, but a winning tactic for attaining ultimate victory. And he was right.