REFLECTION: A seamless garment of mercy – The Beloved Community of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Scott Wrightby Scott Wright
Director, Columban Center for Advocacy & Outreach

“The end is reconciliation; the end is redemption; the end is the creation of the Beloved Community. It is this type of spirit and this type of love that can transform opponents into friends. It is this type of understanding goodwill that will transform the deep gloom of the old age into the exuberant gladness of the new age. It is this love which will bring about miracles in the hearts of men.” – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

mlkToday we celebrate the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. who was assassinated on Holy Thursday, April 4, 1968. He was a pastor, a prophet and a martyr who shared a deep compassion for the poor, the oppressed, the excluded; a deep passion for justice and commitment to defend and protect the vulnerable; and a deep love for the Gospel, the Beatitudes, and the Church.

Dr. King often spoke of the Beloved Community, by which he meant “a global vision in which all people can share in the wealth of the earth.” He often spoke of “the giant triplets of poverty, racism and militarism” as barriers to the Beloved Community and urged us to replace all forms of racism and exclusion with an inclusive spirit of sisterhood and brotherhood.

Today, as we commemorate the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., we have become ever more aware of the challenges we face as a people to bear witness to God’s mercy and justice in the world. A seamless garment of mercy and compassion embraces victims of gun violence in our cities, refugees fleeing gang violence in Central America, and refugees fleeing war in Syria.

This past year, we have witnessed gun violence in our cities and hundreds of unarmed citizens, primarily African Americans, being killed by police officers. We have witnessed millions of Syrian refugees flee a war which has already displaced half the population and killed hundreds of thousands of people. And we have witnessed tens of thousands of unaccompanied children and families fleeing the violence in El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala crossing the U.S.-Mexico border and asking for asylum.

In each of these places of suffering, the face of a child holds up a mirror to our complicity and our silence. Twelve-year-old Tamir Rice, the African American child gunned down by police in a Cleveland park; three-year-old Aylan Kurdi, the Syrian child whose body washed up on the shore of a Turkish beach; and immigrant children being detained and deported by ICE agents in early morning raids on their homes just after Christmas.

Nearly 50 years after his martyrdom, the anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination continues to provide a challenge, an answer and a model for what we can and must do. On the evening before his death, to an overflowing crowd in Memphis who had come to support the strike of African American sanitation workers, Dr. King reminded them of a Biblical parable: the Good Samaritan.

In that parable, the priest and the Levite see the victim by the roadside, but go on their way. Only the Samaritan, an outcast and an enemy, stopped to help. “The first question that the Levite asked was, ‘If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?’ But then the Good Samaritan came by. And he reversed the question: ‘If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?’” That is the question, and that is our challenge today.

Clearly, we can do more. We can call for an end to gun violence in our cities. We can call for an end to the immigrant raids and the deportation of mothers and children. We can open our borders and communities to many more Syrian refugees. We are all part of a single garment of mercy, woven in many colors. We all live in a common home.

In Pope Francis’ words:

“Whenever any minority is persecuted and marginalized because of its religious convictions or ethnic identity, the well-being of society as a whole is endangered.”

Dr. King concluded his retelling of the parable of the Good Samaritan with a challenge of his own, words which were among his last on that fateful evening in Memphis in 1968, words which we would do well to heed: “Let us rise up tonight with a greater readiness. Let us stand with a greater determination. And let us move on in these powerful days, these days of challenge to make America what it ought to be.”

That is the task at hand to which we are called: to oppose the giant triplets of racism, poverty and militarism, to stand with the victims, the refugees and the immigrants, and to form that Beloved Community to which the Gospel, the Beatitudes and our faith invite and call us.

Reprinted from Weekly Reflections on Justice, the Columban Center for Advocacy and Outreach.

2 responses to “REFLECTION: A seamless garment of mercy – The Beloved Community of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

  1. Great reflection, Scott. Thanks! I love the images of a “seamless garment of mercy and compassion [that] embraces victims of gun violence in our cities, refugees fleeing gang violence in Central America, and refugees fleeing war in Syria” and “[i]n each of these places of suffering, the face of a child [that] holds up a mirror to our complicity and our silence.”

    However, one minor factual error and one serious overstatement jumped out at me. According to a couple of websites I found, Holy Thursday in 1968 was on April 11, which puts Dr. King’s assassination a week before Holy Thursday.

    More seriously, it’s not accurate to say, “This past year, we have witnessed . . . hundreds of unarmed citizens, primarily African Americans, being killed by police officers.” According to the Washington Post’s database on all police killings in 2015, 90 unarmed people were killed, not “hundreds.” And 38 of the 90 were African American,a disproportionately high number, but not a majority (“primarily”).

  2. Thank you, Bob. I appreciate your comments and share you concern for accuracy. The point I wanted to make could have been made better with this quote from the Washington Post article you mention: “Race remains the most volatile flash point in any accounting of police shootings. Although black men make up only 6 percent of the U.S. population, they account for 40 percent of the unarmed men shot to death by police this year, The Post’s database shows.” Thanks again.