Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi is quite possibly the most well-known figure to come out of India in the last century. He was an advocate of non-violent civil disobedience, a champion to the poor and disenfranchised, and he sought to bring India out from under the influence of foreign domination. He is the type of patriot that few Americans know what to do with, for he was unwilling to raise arms to defend his countrymen. He protested quietly. He discouraged outward revolution, and he left an indelible mark on the cultural development of the Twentieth Century.
To some, he is among the greatest men who ever lived. To others, he was simply misguided and wrong in in his attempts at nonviolence. To a few, he is the Antichrist. He is praised by the Left. He is ridiculed by the Right, but I think Martin Luther King, Jr. perhaps has one of the best summations of Gandhi’s life and legacy:
“Christ gave us the goals and Mahatma Gandhi the tactics.”
– Life Magazine: “Remembering Martin Luther King Jr. 40 Years Later.” Time Inc, 2008. Pg 12
A fellow Christian once made the observation that he felt Gandhi was perhaps the most Christ-like individual to walk on the face of the earth while never himself wearing the name of Christ. This was a man who, in his youth, was put off by the Christian missionaries who seemed more interested in converting Indians to British culture than anything, but, when hearing the Sermon on the Mount in Hindu, said to have delighted in the teachings of Christ. What can we learn from this gentle soul?
The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.
– “Interview to the Press,” published in Young India (April 1931)
Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven…
– Luke 6:37
Forgiveness is one of the basic foundations of Christianity, but too often we are like Peter in Matthew 18:21, looking for a reason to cut off our forgiveness. This quote by Gandhi was in context of a man judged worthy of the death penalty by his government, someone seen as a traitor. Would we be so kind? Forgiveness does indeed require strength, and Christ’s teachings make it clear that we are to be infinitely forgiving. It is a trait of our Father, and it should be a trait of ours too. It simply takes resolve and strength of character to realize that forgiveness is possible in all cases.
In the dictionary of Satyagraha, there is no enemy.
– Non-Violence in Peace and War (1948)
You have heard that it was said, An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.
– Matthew 5:38-39
As a species, we feel we have purpose when our enmity has a target. We say sin is our enemy, but it is so much easier to personify that enemy in human faces, seeking vengeance for their wrongs. That is not the Christian way. Gandhi didn’t even vilify Hitler, instead trying to seek the good qualities in that man hated and feared by so many. If Gandhi could see glimpses of good even in Hitler, why can’t we see the good in a telemarketer; in the President; in a homeless person; in our neighbors? Are we really that hard up for enemies? Do we desire a target for our vengeance so badly? Instead, we should be striving to live peaceably with all, as Paul writes in Romans 12:18.
Victory attained by violence is tantamount to a defeat, for it is momentary.
– Satyagraha Leaflet No. 13
Then Jesus said to him, “Put your sword back into its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword.”
– Matthew 26:52
The politicization of Christianity is evident in this: we have allowed faith and violence to intermingle in a way foreign to the New Testament. Yes, God used violence prior to the perfect covenant of His Son, but something changes in the New Testament. Where does Jesus take up arms to resist assailants? Where does Paul hurl stones back at those trying to kill him? Why doesn’t Stephen defend himself against the Scribes and Pharisees? We have only one example of a disciple using violence to defend religious freedoms, and Jesus rebukes him for the action. We could learn much from Gandhi’s attitude toward violence if we wish to be more like Christ.
It is unwise to be too sure of one’s own wisdom. It is healthy to be reminded that the strongest might weaken and the wisest might err.
– Harijan (17 February 1940)
Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.
– I Corinthians 10:12
When we think we are at our strongest, that is when we become most vulnerable. Jesus, in the Sermon on the Mount, pleads for us to keep asking, seeking, knocking. Paul, in Philippians 3:12, claims he is continually trying to improve himself and push forward toward his goal. The most influential of the apostles never felt he could stop growing. Gandhi never felt his search for wisdom was over. Neither should we be content to stagnate in a sense of self-satisfaction on our Christian walk. We should always be testing, self-correcting, and improving ourselves so we may not fall.
Caring for Others
A man of truth must also be a man of care.
– An Autobiography (1927)
Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.
– James 1:27
Gandhi and Christ’s followers realized the same thing – to make a difference in the world, we must make a difference to individuals. How often can we read of Jesus or one of His disciples reaching out to an impoverished individual, a widow, a sick person, an outcast? Can the same be said of us? Are we so concerned with saving the world that we forget those closest to us? We often quote the Zen teaching that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. The same is true of souls. If we want to make a difference to millions of wandering souls, it begins with those we can reach out to and care for within our reach.
Living the Message
My life is my message.
– Mahatma : Life of Gandhi 1869-1948
And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus…
– Colossians 3:17
The end of the matter is this: live your message. You want to spread the word of Christ? Live it – and not only when it is convenient or when it agrees with your politics or your personal preferences. Live the message day in and day out. As Gandhi might say, “Be the change we wish to see in the world.” We may speak the words of the gospel, but our actions can drown out the message if they do not agree with those words of truth. If we are Christ’s, we have died to self, and it is He who lives in us. Our conduct should reflect that.
There are many in this world who claim to wear the name of Christ – conservative political leaders, TV personalities, radio talk show hosts – whose actions deny the name they so loudly claim to defend. They sell a gospel of violence, of greed, of hatred, and of anger. Christ was and is none of these things. Instead of letting people like these influence us, I’d encourage us to take a look at this humble man from India, a lawyer who gave up all to hold up the poor; a man who resisted injustice with peace; a man who cared that his words and his actions agreed. Though he never wore the name of Christ, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi gave us an example of what it means to deny self, pick up a cross, and live selflessly.