Most people have heroes. Kids idolize popular singers and athletes, adults look up to people who excelled in their field or made a difference for good in world affairs. Heroes are important - they model ways for us to live, they inspire us with their achievements, they spur us to dream big and believe we can soar. Heroes show us that the world can become a better place through our actions and words, by the way we live our lives.
There are a few notable Christians who have become great heroes in our society. More often, heroes of today are people with incredible talent - in sports, in music, as actors. But every now and then a person will become beloved in the public's eye because of the way he or she has lived out the Christian faith. Mother Teresa was certainly one of those rare Christian heroes; people were drawn to her selfless giving and care for the poor and the sick. Another Christian hero, one of my own heroes in fact, is Martin Luther King, junior. Dr. King, however, was not always viewed in a positive light. During his lifetime, many people questioned his actions, his motives; many people were afraid of him and the change he represented.
For me, Dr. King is a hero, not only because he and his associates accomplished so much good in our society, but because of his commitment to follow Jesus regardless of the cost. In Luke 9, verses 23-24, Jesus tells his disciples: "If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it." Who lives by those words? To a large extent we have tamed the cross, made of it an ornament to hang on our walls or around our necks. A pretty cross suits us so much better than the idea of "losing our life" for Jesus' sake. We embrace decorative crosses, but bearing Jesus' cross and risking our lives... few of us are willing to do that.
Dr. King was willing to lose his life for Jesus' sake, to risk everything in faithfulness to God's Word and God's ways. He spoke a truth that many people did not want to hear; he responded with love to those who sought to harm him and silence him. He did not meet violence with more violence, but instead prayed for his adversaries. He taught others how to follow Jesus' command that we love our enemies. His actions show that he loved God more than he loved his own safety. I have always meant to live like that, but I have fallen short. Even so, Dr. King remains an inspiration to me, reminding me of what is possible.
Addressing this very subject, Dr. King wrote: "...we are gravely mistaken to think that Christianity protects us from the pain and agony of mortal existence. Christianity has always insisted that the cross we bear precedes the crown we wear. To be a Christian, one must take up his cross, with all of its difficulties and agonizing and tragedy-packed content, and carry it until that very cross leaves its mark upon us and redeems us to that more excellent way which comes only through suffering." (Martin Luther King, junior, Strength to Love, Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1963, p. 24-25)
If we are truly to love others, including those who hate us, we will encounter suffering. It is hard to accept suffering willingly, even for the sake of Jesus, our Lord. But it can be done. We have seen that - in Mother Teresa, in Martin Luther King junior. We can love Jesus and love our neighbor more than we love our own life and in doing so, glorify God.
May God embolden us in this day and time to live like our Christian heroes, to be willing to love others even when it hurts us, to put aside our own desires so we can embody the love and truth of Jesus. It could just be that, through us together, God will change the world for the better.
In God's peace... and justice.