Teasing out connections between Martin Luther King Jr.'s nonviolent civil action and Christ Jesus' healing ministry highlights the radical Christian roots of Dr. King's fight for civil rights. Doing so also brings into focus some of the basic requirements for being a peacemaker.
In many ways, Jesus' life served as a blueprint for King's efforts to establish peace. And I've found that, when I put them into practice, two points from King's sermons (that parallel Jesus' teachings) make me a more peaceable person.
The first is that King looked beyond the surface of situations. In short, he got his information from God, from divine Love. Here's evidence of that from one of his sermons: "When we look beneath the surface,... we see within our enemy-neighbor a measure of goodness.... We know God's image is ineffably etched in his being" (Martin Luther King Jr., "Strength to Love").
Jesus showed us how to see in this way. He looked "beneath the surface" of situations. And when he did, he saw God's image. The Monitor's founder, Mary Baker Eddy, described this process: "Jesus beheld in Science the perfect man, who appeared to him where sinning mortal man appears to mortals. In this perfect man the Saviour saw God's own likeness, and this correct view of man healed the sick" ("Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," pp. 476-477).
Seeing "God's own likeness" in place of mortals enabled Jesus to heal all sorts of physical ailments and even to raise the dead. Seeing "God's image ineffably etched in [man's] being" enabled King to love his enemies - even those who bombed a black church in Birmingham, Ala., killing four unquestionably innocent little girls.
How could he? How did he manage to live love day in and day out, regardless of the magnitude of hatred facing him? In that same sermon, King explains, "Every genuine expression of love grows out of a consistent and total surrender to God" ("Strength to Love"). For me, that's the second key to being a peacemaker. Once again, it's a point patterned after Jesus, who was an expert at surrendering to God. So sure was Jesus that his ability to heal - the ultimate expression of love - derived from God that he openly acknowledged, "I can of mine own self do nothing" (John 5:30).
Following Jesus' example, King surrendered to God, not to his assailants. Sometimes fire hoses or tear gas caused a temporary retreat, but not a surrender. To have surrendered to his oppressors would have meant that he'd stopped loving his enemies, which would have signalled defeat not only for the cause but for himself and his enemies. Instead, surrendering to God enabled King to see God's image in others - all others.
We know from his sermons that King leaned heavily on Jesus' example for inspiration and instruction. In fact, I wonder if he sometimes glimpsed the way Jesus must have felt in the garden of Gethsemane when it appeared as though all his efforts to bring peace to people would be in vain. Mary Baker Eddy described Gethsemane this way: "Patient woe; the human yielding to the divine; love meeting no response, but still remaining love" (p. 586). That last phrase in particular - "love meeting no response, but still remaining love" - sums up for me King's capacity to love his enemy patiently, peacefully, persistently.
King modeled his peacemaking efforts after Jesus' example in more ways than those mentioned here, of course. But these two parallels between the men's approaches are essential to wholehearted peace. Striving to see God's image etched in everyone and surrendering oneself to God aren't easy to do, but step by step, as we each make the effort, ordinary people become extraordinary peacemakers.