Monday, November 23, 2009

If We Had Lived in the Days of Our Forefathers

My life overlapped the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. by a few months. The famous civil rights activist was murdered before I learned to walk.

At times, I have wondered: Would I have joined with Dr. King in calling for an end to legal racism?

It's easy to believe that I would have taken the unpopular, but just, position. It's easy to think that I would have had the sense of justice and the courage to do the right thing. I could easily see myself marching with Dr. King in the early 1960s, hiding the Jewish people from the Nazis with Corrie ten Boom's family during World War II, or rescuing escaped slaves with the Underground Railroad in the years leading up to the Civil War. But would I have done such noble things?

Jesus had some harsh words for some of his contemporaries who held similar thoughts. He warned, "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You build tombs for the prophets and decorate the graves of the righteous. And you say, 'If we had lived in the days of our forefathers, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.' So you testify against yourselves that you are the descendants of those who murdered the prophets. Fill up, then, the measure of the sin of your forefathers!" (Matthew 23:29-32).

Jesus' words challenge my pride in what I imagine I would have done. He is not interested in how I would have responded to injustices of the past and the needs of people in a previous generation. Christ is interested in what I am doing today. How do I respond when people are mistreated today? What am I doing today to help those who are in need? Am I willing to take risks? Am I willing to be unpopular for the sake of following Jesus Christ? Do I care about people? Or am I content to condemn a previous generation while taking pride in the fact that I did not participate in their sins?

How am I living today? Am I acting with justice, loving kindness and mercy, and walking humbly with my God?


reborn1995 said...

Great post. Sometimes i wonder, even if i'm willing to side with justice, what should i do? It's not always easy to perceive injustice for what it is. Probably lots of otherwise well-meaning whites didn't *see* the oppression of blacks for what it was. i don't think that lets them off the hook. But it makes me wonder, how do i snap out of it?--how do i snap out of my cultural paradigm to see opportunities to practice compassion and justice?

Further--you and i have talked a bit before, but i think a lot of people can arrange their lives in such a way that they are very isolated and "safe" from ever encountering much of the ugliness in life. For instance, i wonder if there were people fifty to seventy years ago who lived in neighborhoods where there were no blacks and thus they never witnessed any mistreatment. And i wonder if we can be thought accountable for putting ourselves such a "safe" distance from the troubles in the world we may be obligated to help with. i don't know. But it definitely is a thought that makes me wonder what me and my faith are really made of.


Terry said...

Those are great observations. I wonder about what I may not be seeing around me, too. I know that babies are being needlessly aborted, spouses and children are being abused, employees are being cheated out of their wages, employers are being stolen from, people are being slandered, and all kinds of other injustices are occuring around me. But I may not notice. I may be too absorbed with my own concerns (which are sometimes trivial). It's a challenge.