I’m certainly not the first person to ever point this out, and as a white male I may not be the best person to point this out, but there are a number of comparisons between the deaths of Jesus and Martin Luther King Jr. worth noting. We sinful humans have a way of killing the dreamers who call us to a more godly reality.
Not unlike King’s assassination, in killing Jesus, many religious leaders of the day believed they were silencing someone who challenged their power and character. Making an example of Jesus so that no one would consider questioning their traditions and authority, they preserved their own political power and the “understanding” they had with Roman authorities.
We like to dispose of people with dangerous teachings. After all, you can’t have people go around loving their enemies. You can’t allow women or minorities into your inner circle in a patriarchal and racist culture. You can’t just live your life offering radical forgiveness to others. You’re not supposed to welcome and serve Samaritans/Vietnamese/Mexicans.
You’re supposed to fear them and hate them. You’re not supposed to love outcasts and those ostracized by religious culture, especially not to the point that you become friends with them! You can’t say blessed are the peacemakers when all the power and influence of culture is enforced by violence. You can’t tell people not to worry about life, because then our fear-based religion won’t have any influence over them. Make no mistake, the religious power brokers of Jesus’s day wanted him dead, just as many did in King’s day.
When Jesus’s body was placed in a tomb, they must have sighed from relief that (in the words of mystery novelist Dorothy Sayers) “Jesus is safely dead and buried.” There is no doubt — Jesus is much safer dead, and so is MLK.
Not just religious leaders, but politicians wanted both men dead. The Roman governor Pilate wanted Jesus dead because the Jewish people were, as they had been for hundreds of years, on the verge of uprising and revolution. Killing Jesus was a way to pacify the Jewish leaders and delay and distract them from revolting. How fitting that a political leader would allow an innocent man to die in order to delay and distract people from self determination.
Perhaps for Pilate, killing Jesus was a way to bury his shame. Jesus represented everything Pilate was not. Pilate was the governor, and should have been powerful and strong, but he showed weakness and was manipulated easily by mob-crowds and political forces. Jesus was in a position of relative weakness and showed strength and resolve, never being manipulated by those in power, or by the surrounding crowds. Jesus, in a way, represented everything Pilate aspired to become but could never be.
For Pilate, killing Jesus pacified a mob, preserved his power, and swept away his own glaring shortcomings. True leaders deal with their own shortcomings instead of sweeping them under the rug. True leaders deal with issues dead-on instead of using delay and distract methods. True leaders don’t push and grab and kill for power and respect. They earn power and respect by the servant leadership exhibited by Christ. For Pilate, and for Rome, Jesus is much safer dead, as is MLK.
In our culture it seems like we’re killing Jesus and killing MLK all over again. Jesus being alive is still dangerous to religious power brokers of culture and to spineless politicians more worried about pleasing a base than ethical leadership.
Jesus was killed, largely, because he was waking something up in humanity that was a threat to the norms of culture and society — radical grace and forgiveness. MLK was killed for the same reasons, only racial reconciliation and civil rights were at the center of his struggle.
By professing faith in the resurrection, we admit that Christ still has the power to awaken the Kingdom of Heaven in us, and in our culture. Death could not hold him, and those who truly follow him are called to proclaim his salvation and his Kingdom to the world!
By professing belief that MLK’s dream is still alive, we admit the power of his beliefs and ethics to still shape our lives and awaken a yet new day in our culture. We also admit that his call for “little black boys and black girls … to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers,” in many communities, is sadly still a dream.