It wasn’t until I lived in the South, that I realized the kind of courage it took for the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to respond to God’s call the way he did. It wasn’t until I went to his memorial in Atlanta, and explored the historical sites; until I listened to preachers who shared in his history telling his story and revealing his thoughts, that I learned what personal sacrifice he made to become the face and voice of the Civil Rights movement of the 60s.
He was threatened daily. His life, and the life of his family, were ever at risk. And not in some theoretical way by the quiet sentiments or ideology of otherwise polite folks, but in a physically imposing, personally dehumanizing, violent way. A way that eventually cut his life short.
And yet his message to those unlike him was never hate. He voiced a call to accountability, which is the same as the prophet’s call to God’s people. He called persons out of quiet complicity to vocal support or denouncement. He called people to stand in the way of oppression and abuse, which is not unlike the call of discipleship we receive from Jesus.
The prophet Jonah was also called to bring a voice of accountability to the people of Nineveh. And perhaps knowing their reputation—the persecution he would face—he ran the other way. Until, of course, he was cornered by a whale. And when he finally did as God called, the city repented. They not only heard Jonah, they changed their ways, and God showed them mercy.
Whether we are the ones God is calling to repent, or the ones God is calling to bear God’s prophecy, the outcome for each of us is the same: forgiveness and reconciliation. And whether our hard work is changing ourselves or rising in opposition to violence and oppression, the work will not be easy to arrive at transformation. But it will be well worth the effort, if we accept our call in faith. It will be well worth the effort if peace, not judgment nor vindication, is our aim.
I pray for our nation this week as we transition into new leadership. I pray for our communities this week, as our fears and frustrations are kindled. I pray for God’s presence to calm our nerves and steady our hearts, to listen again to the truth of our neighbors that we may seek, together, the good of all.