RARELY DO YOU see powerful people advocate for the benefit of others outside their “own” political or economic group. There is a tendency on the part of the elite to leverage their privilege for their own benefit while disguising it as public good, as the concept of “elite capture” has exposed. And the state is often complicit in reinforcing policies and practices that concentrate resources into the hands of those who already have enough. In a 1962 sermon titled “A Knock at Midnight” (see Luke 11:5-6), Martin Luther King Jr. diagnosed the state of the nation and church saying, “It is midnight in the social order.” He urged the church to respond to the oppressed who “knock on the door,” even when it’s inconvenient. “How often has the church left [people] disappointed at midnight, while it slept quietly in a chamber of pious irrelevancy,” preached King.
Despite decreasing numbers, the U.S. church wields enormous political and economic power. This month’s readings showcase people — the powerful and the not so powerful — who exercise their agency for the good of those who seemingly have little to offer in return. The texts highlight the church’s moral and theological imperative to employ its power to open the door to the ones who desperately knock. Will the church that gathers in the name of Jesus ignore the state’s complicity in oppressive structures or will it act as the “conscience of the state,” as Dr. King urged? Does the church privilege its own comfort or does it attend to the vulnerable, even at the risk of its own interests? King concluded, “the greatest challenge facing the church today is to keep the bread fresh and remain a Friend to [humanity] at midnight.”