We remember Dr. Martin Luther King as a fierce advocate for the betterment of all disadvantaged people, not just people of color.
Dr. King was a faithful Christian by adhering to the Christian principle to “love your neighbor as yourself.” Yet, he went beyond this commandment to encourage God’s people to “demonstrate” compassion to all those who were underprivileged.
We hear God speaking with authority to the people of Israel regarding this obligation to help those whom society has rejected or treated poorly.
When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very corners of your field, nor shall you gather the gleanings of your harvest. Nor shall you glean your vineyard, nor shall you gather the fallen fruit of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the needy and for the stranger. I am the Lord your God. Leviticus 19:9-10
The “needy” refers to people of Israel, but “strangers” are גֵרִים (gerim) who are foreigners coming from countries outside of Israel. These gerim are equivalent to immigrants in our country today.
Yeshua elevated this principle found in the Hebrew Scriptures by promoting “active demonstration” to the needy and the foreigners. For example, leprosy is a highly contagious disease contacted simply by touching a diseased person. Its effects are appalling because the illness causes the face and other parts of the body to rot and fall away. Leprosy was so feared that lepers were required to live in isolated colonies away from the rest of the populace. Yet, when a leper came to Yeshua seeking help, Yeshua “touched him” and the leper was healed (Mat 8:3; cf. Mark 1:41; Luke 5:13).
Then there was the Canaanite woman who was a foreigner despised by many of the Jews. She appealed to Yeshua for help because her daughter was cruelly “demon-possessed”. She bowed down before Yeshua saying, “Lord, help me”, and Yeshua answered her request (Mat 15:22).
How then should we treat the underprivileged who have been outcast by much of our society? This includes (but is not limited to) immigrants, people of color, homosexuals, transgender people, those who have been recently released from prison, and the poor who live in ghetto neighborhoods. I will offer two suggestions. First and foremost, our Christian witness is to project in our thoughts and actions what is right with God, which others can see. Second, we can offer material and emotional help, which often occurs through organizations like churches and religious groups.
Martin Luther King experienced persecution from many, which ultimately led to his death. Yet, this is what God asks of us, that we stand for what is right with God regardless of persecution or even of the threat of death. Yeshua told his disciples, “You will be hated by all because of My name, but it is the one who has endured to the end who will be saved” (Mat 10:22; cf.Mark 13:13).
So, let us witness the love and compassion of God and stand firm even in the face of disapproval and persecution.
Martin Luther King experienced persecution from many, which ultimately led to his death. Yet, this is what God asks of us, that we stand for what is right with God regardless of persecution or even of the threat of death.
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Dr. Anne Davis
Dr. Anne Davis is a professor of Biblical Studies who enjoys working with graduate students to enhance their exegetical skills for exploring the depth of Scripture.