Today, on Martin Luther King Jr. Day a particular verse comes to me, that at first seems hard to connect to the peaceful radical. The words of Christ from Matthew 10;
‘Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; children will come forward against their parents and have them put to death. ..Do not suppose I have come to bring peace to the earth, but a sword…. a person’s enemies will be the members of his own household.’
These verses, for a pacifist like myself, were so hard to accept coming from the ‘Prince of Peace’ that said ‘…Love your enemies, do good to those that persecute you…’ In all honestly, they seem to shoot down every hope I had in Him as a man worth following, and before I was a Christian they were the first thing I’d jump on to show the tyranny of the faith. I battled with these words for years.
That is, until I found another man in history that ‘pit brother against brother,’ and instead of peace, brought a sword to a great nation.
Abraham Lincoln. He’s the man responsible for the Civil War, and brought a nation divided at each brothers’ throats. Understand it wasn’t slavery, but the abolition of slavery, that started the American Civil War. To spare his people from the bloodiest war on American soil, all Lincoln had to do was simply permit slavery to go on. If only he could have turned a blind eye to the treatment of these men, just allow this injustice to continue, the Civil War would have never had to happen. If pitting brother against brother is an absolute evil, then it’s evil that he couldn’t.
Standing up for Justice— throughout all of history— divides men, like chaf from the wheat; The lovers from the haters. Look to the progressive heroes that stood up for Love, Peace, and Humanity, who reminded us all to ‘love your neighbor’ — Martin Luther King Jr., Gandhi, Lincoln, Bonhoeffer, Christ, etc.,— and yet, see how they were in turn hated and killed by those same neighbors.
Now, I am by no means about to go on to say violence can be justified, or to rally hearts to vengeance over the unrightfully killed (as many worldly hearts can be drawn to— Gandhi’s killer was given the death sentence, and his brothers turned his words of peace into retribution cries in India’s violent partition. Even wars have been waged in the name of the ‘Prince of Peace’)— that would be shear hypocrisy for me or any man that follows someone who taught ‘repay no one evil for evil… but defeat evil with good.’ What I am saying, is that when ‘brother is against brother’, Christ’s message of love makes martyrs in the war rather than soldiers. We are a family of Abels against an army of Cains.
The meaning behind Christ’s words of brothers pitted against brothers, of families tearning each other apart is simply that when some radical individual stands for love and says ‘hate is wrong, we must change,’ there will simply be those that do not want to change. You see them yourself. The brothers preaching unconditional love towards all will be opposed by those comfortable in the love-of-self or love of those that love you alone. Loving those that hate you is a hard thing to do. Turning the other cheek when you’re wronged, and blessing those that hurt you takes a life full of devotion. And as history has proven over and over, most people just don’t want to. —Realize, it was not an English Royalist preserving the Crown that shot Gandhi, nor an Islamic nationalist fighting for domination— but one of his own Hindu brothers that simply didn’t like the idea of sharing his country with these people.
So when Christ, our brother, said stop being comfortable and love your neighbor, they said no and crucified him. When Lincoln said stop being comfortable, brothers, and love the value of all human life, they said no and killed him, too. When Bonhoffer said stop being comfortable in fear and stand up against the hate around you, they said no and killed him. When Gandhi said stop being comfortable and share the land with your brothers, they said no and shot him. When Martin Luther King Jr. said to be extremists for love and vanquish hate with love, not more hate, they said no and shot him too.
And yet, living in today’s world clearly formed by their legacies, seeing literal boundaries (from them breaking boundaries) shaped and carved in the world, and in our hearts, it all seems to give conclusive weight to the words of those martyrs of the early Church [the brothers of love those very verses were refering too], ’ “While I live, I shall defeat you; and if you kill me, in my death I shall defeat you all the more.”