The Witness of Love
Twenty-Sixth Sunday of the Year. fr Martin Ganeri speaks of the power of witnessing to Christ’s love.
‘No one who works a miracle in may name is likely to speak evil of me. Anyone who is not against us is for us.’
We should not underestimate the influence that Christ and the Christian faith has had on the world and on the lives of even those who are not Christians. One of the most famous and admirable of people of the twentieth century was Mahatma Gandhi, the man who led the Indian people to independence and who in doing so sought always to promote the value of non-violent struggle. Gandhi’s non-violent approach to resolving political and social problems became a model around the world, as it provided an alternative to violent revolution or violent settling of racial or communal hatreds.
Mahatma Gandhi was not a Christian. He was a Hindu, but he was very much influenced by the person and teachings of Christ. Gandhi, like many other great figures in modern Hinduism, felt a great attraction to the ethical teaching found in the New Testament. And in developing his own understanding of non-violence he drew on Christian teaching.
For Gandhi non- violence did not mean simply not doing harm to others. It meant a positive concern for the good, for the welfare, of others. In other words, it meant love in the Christian sense. And when Gandhi defined the term ‘non-violence,’ he acknowledged the debt he had to Christianity. As he put it, ‘Non-violence means love in the Pauline sense….Non-violence is not merely a negative state of harmlessness, but it is a positive state of love, of doing good even to the evil doer.’
The promotion of this idea of non-violent struggle as the means to achieve just political and social goals was undoubtedly a kind of miracle in the history of human beings, which has otherwise more often been characterised by bloodshed and terror. We have only to think of the contemporary reality of religious violence around the world, including the horrific events in the Middle East and Africa brought about by some forms of Islam, to be reminded of fallen humanity’s overwhelming tendency to violence, a story that began with Abel and continues to the present.
So, in terms of today’s Gospel, Gandhi might well be said to be someone who did a miracle and who did so in the name of Jesus Christ. Gandhi was for Christ and for the Gospel of love and was quite up front in acknowledging this.
In the Gospel Jesus goes on to tell his disciples to look to themselves. Not to object if other people are acting in his name even though they are not fully disciples. Rather, if other people do this it is a good thing. What the disciples should do is to think what kind of witness they give to Christ, whether they themselves act properly in his name, whether they do express the Gospel of love. And they should recognise and expel anything that compromises this, for their own salvation and for the salvation of others.
Thus, Jesus calls his disciples to concentrate on cultivating perfect holiness and charity in their own lives, in order to be perfect in themselves and to be perfect witnesses to others. And this is of course as good advice now as it was then. Indeed, it is very good advice as we try to consider what our own response should be to our world and to the realities of violence, hatred and selfishness. However intractable these realities may seem to be, the more the Church manifests in the lives of its members the reality that human happiness can only be achieved through love of God and love of neighbour, the more this will be likely to influence others, including all those who are not Christians themselves. This witness to love may often be rejected, but it will sometimes at least be welcomed and change the minds and hearts of those who encounter it.
Readings: Numbers 11:25-29 | James 5:1-6 | Mark 9:38-43,45,47-48