On Mahatma Gandhi

Paulos Mar Gregorios

St. Paul speaks to the Corinthians about his own credentials as an ambassador of God. Those credentials are threefold:
  1. constant suffering, affliction and humiliation; 
  2. total openness to all in unhypocritical love; 
  3. the capacity to take acceptance and rejection, approval and disapproval, with the same equanimity and rejoicing.
When I think of the church’s diakonia in my own country, I find this rarely to be the case. Our credentials as a Suffering Servant in India are highly defective. not only the official church, but even the action groups do not produce these credentials. Even Mother Teresa, who is a tremendously successful Christian deacon, ambassador and servant to the poor, can hardly produce the credentials which St. Paul is talking about.

On the other hand there has been at least one suffering servant, with these credentials, whom I have encountered in India, in my own life-time. But Mahatma Gandhi was not a baptized or believing Christian. He came to the people as a suffering servant of God, with all the three credentials. He walked into the village of Noakhali, where Hindus and Muslims were shooting and stabbing each other, in 1947. Clad in loincloth, without sleep and without eating, with just the old man’s walking stick in his hand, this frail and fragile servant walked into Muslim homes and Hindu homes, saying to Muslims: “I am a Hindu; kill me if you want to kill a Hindu, but do not kill others.” To the Hindu household, brimming wit the same passionate and murderous hatred as the Muslim household, Gandhi walked in and said: “I am a friend of the Muslims; kill me first, but do not kill others.”

The fact that he succeeded in Noakhali shows only the power of love. The fact that he was shot down by a Hindu at a joint prayer meeting of people of all religions confirms the truth that love does not always succeed, but that the true vocation of the Suffering Servant is to love to the point of laying down one’s life for others.

Christians, I must say to the shame of my own community in India, should have seen, but did not acknowledge, their Lord as Suffering Servant, in this exceptionally free and dedicated “non-Christian,’ who held to the truth as his breast-plate and manifested the love of God in laying down his life that others may live.

Draw what lessons you can from this episode of a man of another faith fulfilling the role of the Suffering Servant in our time...’