By Reverend Dr. John E. Jackson, Sr.
“The one who frames the story will shape how others see the story.” Dr. Greg Carr
We come to the first month of a new year, and attention will soon turn to the personality of Reverend Dr. Martin L. King, Jr.
Dr. King first and foremost was an ordained minister of the Gospel of Jesus, the Christ of Nazareth, Jesus, who is the model and template for how the religion that bears his name should be practiced.
Jesus first of all organized poor Black people in biblical Palestine, which we know is located in Northeast Africa, to resist the foreign ideologies of their colonizers from Rome. Jesus also organized the poor oppressed Black Jews and Gentiles of his area and day to create an alternative community where the justice and righteousness of God would make it a priority and that no one lacked any need and all would have enough of what they needed. See The Acts of The Apostles chapters 2-4. Theologians call it a Theology of Sufficiency!
I believe that was at the heart of this “Drum Major of Peace”—Dr. King, who was born not only in the long powerful history of the Black church but was born into the middle class of Atlanta. He could have graduated from his secondary studies and taken on lucrative positions all over this nation but, because of the call of that revolutionary from Nazareth named Jesus, and the deep legacy of the Black church that was born in the fight for justice and righteousness, he chose to serve to empower oppressed Black and brown people of this nation and the world. (See Dr. King in Ghana in 1957 for Ghana’s independence and elevation of Kwame Nkrumah).
In fact, as recorded in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, Jesus did his most effective work in the trenches, the hinterlands, the backwoods and the ghettos of Nazareth and Capernaum. In other words, outside of the Temple/Church.
In his insightful book, “Africans Who Shaped Our Faith,” Dr. Jeremiah A. Wright, Jr., writes that Jesus grew up no more than 3-5 miles from the major metropolis of Sepphoris. Sepphoris is where opportunity was, Sepphoris is where the upwardly mobile migrated, Sepphoris is where the publicity of the high profile was prominent and financial gain was greatest.
Jesus did not choose to anchor his ministry in Sepphoris, however. Jesus chose to anchor his ministry some 20 miles south of Nazareth in Capernaum. Capernaum in Jesus’ day, according to the research of Dr. Wright in his book, was heavily populated by diseased people. Malaria, pneumonia, palsy, venereal disease, and leprosy all found their way among the poor in biblical places like Capernaum.
Why would Jesus carry out his ministry in such a place rather than in the lucrative location of Sepphoris, a few miles away from his home? The answer is clear. Because that is where the hurting was, the dispossessed were, and that is where the disinherited were.
Dr. King could have carried out his ministry gracing the ivory towers of academia, writing, teaching, and pontificating on lofty ideas all while setting himself and his family up with a lucrative income, but Dr. King chose to march across bridges like Selma, and march in hotbeds of hate in cities like Birmingham, Montgomery, Memphis, Albany and Chicago. In all these places, Dr. King, like Jesus, faced death threats, violent mobs of settler colonial racist white hate groups, and being unjustly arrested and thrown into jail.
Dr. King’s work, like Jesus’ best work, was done outside of the comfortable confines of church buildings, in the streets, where the poor and resourced-deprived communities of Black people lived.
And yes, when he was murdered by that coward on April 4, 1968, like Jesus who had to be placed in a borrowed tomb owned by Joseph of Arimathea, Dr. King’s funeral was paid for by Harry Belafonte because he gave so much to the cause of Justice.
When we reflect on Dr. King this month, let us remember the truth of his story so that present day pastors, preachers and prognosticators of the Gospel will remember that Dr. King left a template that he picked up from Jesus.
That template illuminated that the heart of the Gospel is not being heavenly focused, but bringing the justice of God right here on earth to those who are most in need, or as Dr. Obery Hendricks, Jr., wrote in his classic work, “The Politics of Jesus,” Jesus’ ministry emphasized the sentiment to “treat the people’s needs as holy.”
Let the truth of Dr. King’s legacy mitigate against the twisted versions from white racists who hated Dr. King when he was alive but now take his quotes out of context to serve their nefarious and negating purposes.
Let us cease sanitizing King, and let his legacy trouble us out of complacency in our churches, and let his legacy lead us to draw closer to the magnetic North Star of the revolutionary ministry of Jesus of Nazareth who declared, “The spirit of The Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach the Gospel to the poor; he has sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed; to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.”
Jesus said, “You shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free.”
Be Free Today!
Rest In Peace as you advocate for us from the ancestral realm, great Jegna Dr. Martin L. King, Jr.
Rev. Dr. John E. Jackson, Sr. is the Senior Pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ-Gary, 1276 W. 20th Ave. in Gary. “We are not just another church but we are a culturally conscious, Christ-centered church, committed to the community; We are Unashamedly Black and Unapologetically Christian.” Contact the church by email at [email protected] or by phone at 219-944-0500.