I recently wrote that in the person of Jesus, I see a man who mastered the art of being divinely human. He lived an existence marked with constant sacrifice to the “least” of his society, and he preached unconditional acceptance for all people. He lived a short life and died for his cause at the hands of people whose love of power had strangled their love for their fellow man. Jesus’ story has, of course, gripped societies around the world since the day of his death.
I’ve always found it interesting that those things are also true about the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
I marvel at those similarities, but there is one other parallel between Jesus and King that overwhelms me. The parallel to which I’m referring is King’s declaration shortly before he died that he had “been to the mountain top”…
I think about the loaded metaphor associated with mountaintops in the Bible and know in my heart of hearts that Dr. King’s use of the word is more than merely a statement made in passing. He is someone who really had been to the metaphorical mountaintop… I imagine him ascending to the summit to survey the land, only to find himself distraught that like Jerusalem, his society seemed to know nothing of God’s great plan for the world…
In scripture, the mountaintop is also the place where the disciples saw in very metaphysical terms the degree to which Jesus was literally saturated with the Spirit of God. However, I don’t think of God-saturation as a characteristic purely unique to Jesus. Such saturation also seems evident in those who have allowed themselves to become literally overwhelmed/overtaken (aka baptized, baptizo) in the Spirit of God. This Spirit is invoked when we dare to love others selflessly, despite what our critics say, and regardless of whether or not it pleases society. Just as King went to the mountaintop as a prophet to his people and as an overwhelmed lover of his society, he certainly went to the mountaintop as a son, transparently and unashamedly saturated with God’s love for a downtrodden people.
The saturated love– or the “overtaken” and “baptized” love– is most certainly the kind of love Dr. King must have felt. Like Jesus, he saw that his neighbors needed a prophet, an advocate and a healer… But more than that, they needed someone who would love them enough to walk into the very heart of danger if necessary. They needed someone who would love them enough to declare their worth when others had deemed them worthless. He heard the Spirit of God beckoning him to “proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, [and] proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor,”… He heard his Creator asking him to empty himself, and he answered in a way that changed the world.
And yes, the mountaintop– the bosom of God’s love and seat of revelation– is the place from which King saw the promised land, but only from afar… He understood his destination as the place where the fruits of his long labor would be realized. King knew that the results of his work would not be immediate, but that his dedication was imperative nevertheless.
On this, the observance of Dr. King’s 83rd birthday, I am reminded of the repeated call in scripture that we return to the mountaintop– if for no other reason than to hear the call of God, or weep tears of love for the societies we serve, or to demonstrate the love of God which overtakes us so relentlessly, or to dream of the future. May we all have the courage to go to the mountaintop… Not because it’s popular. Not because it has been done before. But because the voiceless and oppressed are waiting for us to heed the call.
God bless you.