As a child, the third Monday in January was nothing more than a day off from school. I knew the day off had a name, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, but I never really understood why until I was a teenager. Even then, it was hard for me to fully grasp its significance. Call it white privilege or growing up in the North, but the reality of racial oppression was not something I observed firsthand. I knew people of different races and ethnic groups and enjoyed getting to know more about different cultures. In my bubble, I just thought that was normal for everybody.
To me, oppression was being told I had to do certain responsibilities (like babysitting my little brother or cleaning the house) for the sole reason that I’m a girl. There were other times that I wasn’t taken seriously because of my age, even as an adult. Or the time I was made to sit in the back of a police car after getting T-boned by another vehicle since the other driver was a good friend of the officer. Those were my so-called injustices.
So how can I relate to the issues of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Day? And how can I empathize with the injustices that are still affecting our country today?
In looking into King’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech, I became aware of a Bible verse he quoted.
It comes from Amos 5:24:
A couple questions came to my mind:
- Who was Amos?
- Why is he calling for justice?
- How does this relate to MLK?
- What can we learn from this?
Who was Amos?
The Book of Amos was written by, you guessed it, a man named Amos around 2800 years ago. He was basically a farmer, who then was called by God to become a prophet. A prophet is a mouthpiece for God, making known God’s will for the people.
Why is he calling for justice?
Back then, many people were living excessively, focused on only what was in their best interests while many around them suffered. Amos 8:4-6 shows that they took advantage of the poor even while pretending to do it in the Lord’s name:
Hear this, you who trample on the need and bring the poor of the land to an end, saying, “When will the new moon be over, that we may sell grain? And the Sabbath, that we may offer wheat for sale, that we may make the ephah small and the shekel great and deal deceitfully with false balances, that we may buy the poor for silver and the needy for a pair of sandals and sell the chaff of the wheat?”
The judicial system was corrupt, making it difficult for fairness to be given to all, exploiting those who needed assistance the most.
The people felt entitled and secure. They were at peace with their neighboring countries, so the social climate was developing and changing rapidly, instead of focusing on war. They made the mistake of self-reliance over relying on God.
Amos was used to call them out on their injustice and greed, and call them to turn to God’s plan for provision and blessing. He gave warnings that people did not heed which led to the verse quoted by MLK, for justice to flow down on the land.
How does this relate to MLK?
Martin Luther King, Jr. was called by God to be a preacher in times of unrest. He used biblical principles to promote peace and love amongst violence and hatred. He called out those who were blinded by their hatred to other races and took advantage of the poor and needy, and peaceably promoted equality and basic rights for all people, whether it meant all people getting to choose a seat on a bus or fair wages for workers. Even when it wasn’t popular, he was a leader which came at the cost of death threats, the bombing of his home, and eventually assassination.
What can we learn from this?
It has been said that, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” 2800 years after Amos’ time and 55 years after MLK spoke “I Have a Dream,” we are still a nation who struggle with treating ALL people fairly. Just because I didn’t see true oppression around me growing up, doesn’t mean it did not exist. And just because we no longer segregate, doesn’t mean that racism has been eradicated. One only needs to turn on the news to have the media remind us of the chaos and cruelty in the world. And just like those around Amos, the poor have become poorer and the rich are only richer.
King grew up in a segregated school, so it would have made sense for him to act out in anger and allow his protests to become violent. He never condoned the inequality, but he also did not allow his reaction to lead to treating attackers the same way. There’s a great difference between peaceably protesting and those who incite violence under the guise of “protest.” We are called to be a light, and we need to learn to let our lights shine brighter than the darkness that surrounds us.
We can also learn that there is good around us too. The positive organizations and people seeking to make the world better through ways of peace instead of violence need to be supported and celebrated. And we should not become numb to the needs of those around us, hoping that some one or organization will come through for them instead of ourselves.
The time that we are given is now. We can choose to be a part of God’s plan for providing needs, whether they are financial, emotional, or spiritual, or we can act like the Israelites who were only looking out for themselves. They had chances to repent and change their ways, but their stubbornness led them to facing God’s wrath with drought, famine, sickness, and the attacks of enemies. Their affluence and intellect could not save them.
So are we going to be looking out for ourselves at the expense of others? Or will we share what God has given us to help those who cross our paths? Are we outraged by those in opposition to what God has called us to do?