Jesus, Gandhi, and MLK – A Very Salty Trio: a sermon for Epiphany 5A

Gandhi on Sermon on the Mt copy

Like most people my age, I remember the days when families had only one television set and when I was just a kid, it was a black and white television. When I was eleven or twelve, we got one of those new-fangled colour TV sets. Back then kids functioned as remote controls; Mom and Dad decided what we watched. How else would I have seen all those grainy black and white documentaries? My parents were hooked on history and as a result my brother and I were introduced to some pretty incredible characters by way of those old grainy black and white films Many of the documentaries were about the majesty of the British Empire that dominated much of the world in those old grainy days. I can still remember being impressed by a little man, wearing what looked like a diaper and causing quite a commotion wandering around Britain and talking about home rule. I remember how excited my father was when the film showed this little fellow Gandhi talking to some striking Welsh miners, encouraging them in their fight against the mine-owners. It was the beginning of a long love affair with a giant of a man.

Back then, I loved reading biographies so the next time I was in the library I picked up three biographies about Gandhi and I’ve continued to read and watch whatever I can get my hands on about the life and teachings of Mohandis K. Gandhi. It was reading about Gandhi that caused me to take my first serious look at Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. Up until then, I didn’t know much about the teachings of Jesus. We didn’t go to church, so what I knew about Jesus I’d picked up by osmosis; growing up in a Christian culture meant, I knew who Jesus was, but very little of what he taught. But reading about Gandhi, I discovered just how much of an influence Jesus had been on Gandhi’s philosophy of non-violence. I knew that Gandhi’s methods had brought the British Empire to its knees, so I began to wonder about Jesus’ methods. You’ve got to remember when I was a kid, the Vietnam war was raging and the world was under constant threat of mutual annihilation as the American and Soviet empires threatened to blow us all into oblivion. Non-violence was more than just an intriguing idea; back then non-violence sounded like a life-line.

And so it was, that my interest in the life and teachings of a non-violent revolutionary from India, sent me scurrying to find the little Bible that I’d received as a gift from the Gideons when I was in grade five so that I could read Jesus’ sermon on the mount. I’d read that Gandhi had said that, if all he knew of Christianity was the Sermon on the Mount he himself would be a Christian. I had been told that we were Christians, but other than Christmas and Easter, I had no real evidence of my Christianity.

It has been said that Gandhi read both the Sermon on the Mount and Chapter Two of the Bhagavad Gita every day. He is reported to have said that “Much of what passes for Christianity today is a negation of the sermon on the Mount.” Gandhi asked, “Isn’t it is more important to do what Jesus wants us to do than to call him “Lord, Lord?”

As a faithful Hindu, Gandhi was unwilling to accept Christian dogma, but in Jesus, Gandhi recognized a great prophet; a prophet who pointed beyond himself to a world in which non-violence was more than just a dream, non-violence was necessary in order that men and women could live together in peace in order that they might live in union with God. In the teachings of Jesus, Gandhi discovered something that those of us who claim to be followers of Jesus so often miss or deny. The church, the very institution that Jesus’ teachings gave rise to, has for centuries left the salt out of Jesus’ teachings and offered up a flavorless dogmatic dish aimed at pleasing the palates of the powers of Empire to which it has been tied for centuries. As a result, the followers of Jesus all too often forget Jesus call to be the salt of the earth. Sometimes it takes a stranger to remind us of the treasures we possess.

That Gandhi discovered, revered and embodied the philosophy of non-violence that Jesus lived and died for has not gone unnoticed. I’d like to read for you some excerpts from a sermon preached in 1959 by a preacher far more eloquent than I, which illustrates they ways in which Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount was embodied by Mahatma Gandhi. This sermon was preached on Palm Sunday of 1959 as the preacher invited a large congregation to begin their preparations for Holy Week by looking to the life and witness of Mahatma Gandhi so that they might discover how they too might rediscover their own saltiness by embodying the teachings found in the Sermon on the Mount.

The preacher writes:

“Now let us look at the life, as briefly as possible, the life of this man and his work, and see just what it gives us, and what this life reveals to us in terms of the struggles ahead.  I would say the first thing that we must see about this life is that Mahatma Gandhi was able to achieve for his people independence through nonviolent means.  I think you should underscore this.  He was able to achieve for his people independence from the domination of the British Empire without lifting one gun or without uttering one curse word. He did it with the spirit of Jesus Christ in his heart and the love of God, and this was all he had.  He had no weapons. He had no army, in terms of military might.  And yet he was able to achieve independence from the largest empire in the history of this world without picking up a gun or without any ammunition.

Gandhi was born in India in a little place called Porbandar, down almost in central India. And he had seen the conditions of this country. India had been under the domination of the British Empire for many years. And under the domination of the British Empire, the people of India suffered all types of exploitation. And you think about the fact that while Britain was in India,  that out of a population of four hundred million people, more than three hundred and sixty-five million of these people made less than fifty dollars a year. And more than half of this had to be spent for taxes. Gandhi looked at all of this. He looked at his people as they lived in ghettos and hovels and as they lived out on the streets, many of them. And even today, after being exploited so many years, they haven’t been able to solve those problems. For when we landed in Bombay, India, and I never will forget it, that night. We got up early in the morning to take a plane for Delhi. And as we rode out to the airport we looked out on the street and saw people sleeping out on the sidewalks and out in the streets, and everywhere we went to. Walk through the train station, and you can hardly get to the train, because people are sleeping on the platforms of the train station. No homes to live in. In Bombay, India, where they have a population of three million people, five hundred thousand of these people sleep on the streets at night. Nowhere to sleep, no homes to live in, making no more than fifteen or twenty dollars a year or even less than that. And this was the exploitation that Mahatma Gandhi noticed years ago. And even more than that, these people were humiliated and embarrassed and segregated in their own land. There were places that the Indian people could not even go in their own land. The British had come in there and set up clubs and other places and even hotels where Indians couldn’t even enter in their own land.

Gandhi looked at all of this, and as a young lawyer, after he had just left England and gotten his law, received his law training, he went over to South Africa. And there he saw in South Africa, and Indians were even exploited there. And one day he was taking a train to Pretoria, and he had first-class accommodations on that train. And when they came to took up the tickets they noticed that he was an Indian, that he had a brown face, and they told him to get out and move on to the third-class accommodation, that he wasn’t supposed to be there with any first-class accommodation. And Gandhi that day refused to move, and they threw him off the train. And there, in that cold station that night, he stayed all night, and he started meditating on his plight and the plight of his people. And he decided from that point on that he would never submit himself to injustice, or to exploitation.

It was there on the next day that he called a meeting of all of the Indians in South Africa, in that particular region of South Africa, and told them what had happened, and told them what was happening to them every day, and said that, “We must do something about it. We must organize ourselves to rid our community, the South African community, and also the Indian community back home, of the domination and the exploitation of foreign power.” But Mahatma Gandhi came to something else in that moment. As he started organizing his forces in South Africa, he read the Sermon on the Mount. He later read the works of the American poet Thoreau. And he later read the Russian author Tolstoy. And he found something in all of this that gave him insights. Started reading in the Bible, “turn the other cheek,” “resist evil with good,” “blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.””  And all of these things inspired him to no end.

He read Thoreau as he said that no just man can submit to anything evil, even if it means standing up and being disobedient to the laws of the state. And so this he combined into a new method, and he said to his people, “Now, it’s possible to resist evil; this is your first responsibility; never adjust to evil, resist it. But if you can resist it without resorting to violence or to hate, you can stand up against it and still love the individuals that carry on the evil system that you are resisting.”

And a few years later, after he won a victory in South Africa, he went back to India. And there his people called on him, called on his leadership, to organize them and get ready for the trials ahead, and he did just that. He went back, and in 1917 he started his first campaign in India. And throughout his long struggle there, he followed the way of nonviolent resistance. Never uttered a curse word, mark you. He never owned an instrument of violence. And he had nothing but love and understanding goodwill in his heart for the people who were seeking to defeat him and who were exploiting and humiliating his people. ….

And you have read of the Salt March, which was a very significant thing in the Indian struggle.

And this demonstrates how Gandhi used this method of nonviolence and how he would mobilize his people and galvanize the whole of the nation to bring about victory. In India, the British people had come to the point where they were charging the Indian people a tax on all of the salt, and they would not allow them even to make their own salt from all of the salt seas around the country.

They couldn’t touch it; it was against the law. And Gandhi got all of the people of India to see the injustice of this. And he decided one day that they would march from Ahmadabad down to a place called Dandi.

We had the privilege of spending a day or so at Ahmadabad at that Sabarmati ashram, and we stood there at the point where Gandhi started his long walk of two hundred and eighteen miles.

And he started there walking with eighty people. And gradually the number grew to a million, and it grew to millions and millions. And finally, they kept walking and walking until they reached the little village of Dandi. And there, Gandhi went on and reached down in the river, or in the sea rather, and brought up a little salt in his hand to demonstrate and dramatize the fact that they were breaking this law in protest against the injustices they had faced all over the years with these salt laws. And Gandhi said to his people, “If you are hit, don’t hit back; even if they shoot at you, don’t shoot back; if they curse you, don’t curse back, but just keep moving. Some of us might have to die before we get there; some of us might be thrown in jail before we get there, but let us just keep moving.” And they kept moving, and they walked and walked, and millions of them had gotten together when they finally reached that point. And the British Empire knew, then, that this little man had mobilized the people of India to the point that they could never defeat them. And they realized, at that very point, that this was the beginning of the end of the British Empire as far as India was concerned. He was able to mobilize and galvanize more people than, in his lifetime, than any other person in the history of this world. And just with a little love in his heart and understanding goodwill and a refusal to cooperate with an evil law, he was able to break the backbone of the British Empire.

And this, I think, is one of the most significant things that has ever happened in the history of the world, and more than three hundred and ninety million people achieved their freedom. And they achieved it nonviolently when a man refused to follow the way of hate, and he refused to follow the way of violence, and only decided to follow the way of love and understanding goodwill and refused to cooperate with any system of evil. And the significant thing is that when you follow this way, when the battle is almost over, and a new friendship and reconciliation exists between the people who have been the oppressors and the oppressed. …

…The aftermath of violence is al ways bitterness; the aftermath of nonviolence is the creation of the beloved community so that when the battle is over, it’s over, and a new love and a new understanding and a new relationship comes into being between the oppressed and the oppressor. This little man, one of the greatest conquerors that the world has ever known.

Somebody said that when Mahatma Gandhi was coming over to England for the roundtable conference in 1932, a group of people stood there waiting. And some- body pointed out, and while they were waiting somebody said, “You see around that cliff? That was where Julius Caesar came, the way he came in when he invaded Britain years ago.” And then somebody pointed over to another place and said, “That was the way William the Conqueror came in. They invaded years ago in the Battle of Hastings.” Then somebody else looked over and said, “There is another conqueror coming in. In just a few minutes the third and greatest conqueror that has ever come into Great Britain.” And strangely enough, this little man came in with no armies, no guards around him, no military might, no beautiful clothes, just loin cloth, but this man proved to be the greatest conqueror that the British Empire ever faced. He was able to achieve, through love and nonviolence, the independence of his people and break the backbone of the British Empire. “Ye shall do greater works than I have done.”

And this is exemplified in the life of Mahatma Gandhi. He started out as a young lawyer. He went to South Africa, and he became a thriving, promising lawyer making more than thirty thousand dollars a year. And then he came to see that he had a task ahead to free his people.

And he vowed poverty, decided to do away with all of the money that he had made, and he went back to India and started wearing the very clothes that all of these disinherited masses of people of India had been wearing.

…And he had no income; he had nothing in this world, not even a piece of property.

This man achieved in his life absolute self-discipline to the point of renouncing the world.

And when he died, the only thing that he owned was a pair of glasses, a pair of sandals, a loincloth, some false teeth, and some little monkeys who saw no evil, who said no evil, and who somehow didn’t see any evil.

This is all he had.

…We went in some little villages, and in these villages we saw hundreds of people sleeping on the ground.

They didn’t have any beds to sleep in. We looked in these same villages; there was no running water there, nothing to wash with. We looked in these villages, and we saw people there in their little huts and in their little rooms, and the cow, their little cow, or their calves slept in the same room with them. If they had a few chickens, the chickens slept in the same room with them. We looked at these people, and they had nothing that we would consider convenient, none of the comforts of life. Here they are, sleeping in the same room with the beast of the field. This is all they had. Pretty soon we discovered that these people were the untouchables. Now you know in India you have what is known as the caste system, and that existed for years. And there were those people who were the outcasts, some seventy million of them. They were called untouchables.

And these were the people who were exploited, and they were trampled over even by the Indian people them- selves. And Gandhi looked at this system. Gandhi couldn’t stand this system, and he looked at his people, and he said, “Now, you have selected me and you’ve asked me to free you from the political domination and the economic exploitation inflicted upon you by Britain.

And here you are trampling over and exploiting seventy million of your brothers.”

And he decided that he would not ever adjust to that system and that he would speak against it and stand up against it the rest of his life. And you read, back in his early life, the first thing he did when he went to India was to adopt an untouchable girl as his daughter. And his wife thought he was going crazy because she was a member of one of the high castes. And she said, “What in the world are you doing adopting an untouchable? We are not supposed to touch these people.”

And he said, ‘‘I am going to have this young lady as my daughter.” And he brought her into his ashram, and she lived there, and she lives in India today. And he demonstrated in his own life that untouchability had to go.

And one of the greatest tasks ever performed by Mahatma Gandhi was against untouchability. One day he stood before his people and said, “You are exploiting these untouchables. Even though we are fighting with all that we have in our bodies and our souls to break loose from the bondage of the British Empire, we are exploiting these people, and we’re taking from them their selfhood and their self-respect.” And he said, “We will not even allow these people to go into temple.”

They couldn’t go in the temple and worship God like other people. They could not draw water like other people, and there were certain streets they couldn’t even walk on. And he looked at all of this. One day he said, “Beginning on the twenty-first of September at twelve o’clock, I will refuse to eat. And I will not eat any more until the leaders of the caste system will come to me with the leaders of the untouchables and say that there will be an end to untouchability. And I will not eat any more until the Hindu temples of India will open their doors to the untouchables.” And he refused to eat. And days passed. Nothing happened.

Finally, when Gandhi was about to breathe his last, breathe his last breath and his body it was all but gone and he had lost many pounds. A group came to him. A group from the untouchables and a group from the Brahmin caste came to him and signed a statement saying that we will no longer adhere to the caste system and to untouchability. And the priests of the temple came to him and said now the temple will be open unto the untouchables.

And that afternoon, untouchables from all over India went into the temples, and all of these thousands and millions of people put their arms around the Brahmins and peoples of other castes.

Hundreds and millions of people who had never touched each other for two thousand years were now singing and praising God together. And this was the great contribution that Mahatma Gandhi brought about. And today in India, untouchability is a crime punishable by the law. And if any- body practices untouchability, he can be put in prison for as long as three years.

And as one political leader said to me, “You cannot find in India one hundred people today who would sign the public statement endorsing untouchability.”

Here was a man who had the amazing capacity for internal criticism to the point that he saw the shortcomings of his own people. And he was just as firm against doing something about that as he was about doing away with the exploitation of the British Empire. And this is what makes him one of the great men of history.

And the final thing that I would like to say to you this morning is that the world doesn’t like people like Gandhi. That’s strange, isn’t it? They don’t like people like Christ. …They kill them.

And this man, who had done all of that for India, this man who had given his life and who had mobilized and galvanized four hundred million people for independence so that in 1947 India received its independence, and he became the father of that nation. This same man because he decided that he would not rest until he saw the Muslims and the Hindus together; they had been fighting among themselves, they had been in riots among themselves, and he wanted to see this straight. And one of his own fellow Hindus felt that he was a little too favorable toward the Muslims, felt that he was giving in a little too much toward the Muslims. And one afternoon, when he was at Birla House, living there with one of the big industrialists for a few days in Delhi, he walked out to his evening prayer meeting. Every evening he had a prayer meeting where hundreds of people came, and he prayed with them. And on his way out there that afternoon, one of his fellow Hindus shot him. And here was a man of nonviolence, falling at the hand of a man of violence. Here was a man of love falling at the hands of a man of hate. This seems the way of history.”

Some of you may have guessed that the author of this sermon that I’ve been quoting was Martin Luther King Jr. Dr. King was a student of both Jesus and Mahatma Gandhi. Dr. King employed Mahatma Gandhi’s non-violent methods to defeat the Empire that oppressed his people. Dr. King concluded his sermon with these words:

“….For in a day when Sputniks and Explorers are dashing through outer space and guided ballistic missiles are carving highways of death through the stratosphere, no nation can win a war. Today it is no longer a choice between violence and nonviolence; it is either nonviolence or nonexistence. It may now be that Mahatma Gandhi is God’s appeal to this age, an age drifting to its And that warning, and that appeal is always in the form of a warning: “He who lives by the sword will perish by the sword.”

Jesus said it years ago. Whenever men follow that and see that way, new horizons begin to emerge and a new world unfolds. Who today will follow Christ in his way and follow it so much that we’ll be able to do greater things even than he did because we will be able to bring about the peace of the world and mobilize hundreds and thousands of men to follow the way of Christ?

And God grant that we shall choose the high way, even if it will mean assassination, even if it will mean crucifixion, for by going this way we will discover that death would be only the beginning of our influence.

“I have other sheep,” says Jesus, “which are not of this fold. And if you will believe in me and follow my way, you will be even, you will be able to do even greater works than I did in my lifetime.”

Jesus, Gandhi and King, three very salty fellows. Salty fellows who went up against Empires more powerful than their worlds had ever seen before. Without the use of violence, with the sheer force of their saltiness they managed to change the favour of the stew in which their people lived.

You are the salt of the earth, what injustices are you prepared to shine a light on? The oppression of Empire continues under the banner of Globalization. Inequities exist and people suffer and die. We who claim to follow Jesus have been called to live into our saltiness. If we look around us we will see the dark-side of Empire. Do we have what it takes to shine a light on the poverty that exists in our time? How salty are we?

In 2011, economist Jeffery Sachs checked the figures and proclaimed that we could, if we chose to, end poverty in the world in a matter of 20 years at a total cost of 175 Billion dollars per year.

There are those who claim that the cost is too high and that we cannot afford to end poverty. And yet this very week the people all over the world are celebrating the Olympic Games. I did some checking and it seems that the Russians have spent a total of 50 Billion dollars on the games. Canada spent 89 million just on our athletes, our government refuses to disclose the total cost of our share of the Olympic bill. But if you add up what we do know about the financial cost of this two week extravaganza, the bill will be come in at somewhere between 75 and 100 Billion dollars. 75 and 100 billion dollars for two weeks of playing games. The annual cost of eradicating poverty in our world in just 20 years would be 175 billion dollars. That’s less than 1 percent of the combined income of the richest countries in the world.

The experts say all the developed countries in the world need to do is contribute 0.7% of their GDP. The G8 countries put together the Millennium Development Goals in order to achieve enough contributions to achieve the eradication of extreme poverty and hunger, the elimination of gender inequalities, the prevention of environmental degradation, the prevention and treatment of HIV/AIDS, and the provision of education, healthcare and clean water.  The latest figures I could find indicate that Canada falls well below this target which our Nation committed to back in 2000, that’s 20 years ago. Canada agreed to bring our contribution up to 0.7% by 2015 but to date we only give 0.47% of our GDP to foreign aid. We are doing better than our American cousins, who despite being the wealthiest nation on the planet only contribute 0.18% of their GDP. To put this into perspective the United States gives 75 Billion to the alleviate poverty while it spends 680 Billion on it’s military.

This year (2020) Canada is on track to spend 1.8% of our GDP on the military. That’s 20 Billion dollars. Canada will spend 20 billion dollars on our military this year! World military expenditure in 2018 is estimated to have reached $1.8 trillion. I have no idea what the word trillion looks like in bundles of cash. But we spend almost two trillion dollars in one year on our various militaries.   Surely we can spend 175 billion a year…just 0.7% percent of all that we earn each year to eradicate poverty.

We are the salt of the earth people!!! Have we lost our saltiness? Or are we prepared to shine a light on the needs of the oppressed. Are we prepared to add our salt to the mix and employ the methods embodied by Jesus, Gandhi, Martin Luther King and so many others to take a stand for justice and peace?  In the words of Dr. King, the question is before us:

“Who today will follow Christ in his way and follow it so much that we’ll be able to do greater things even than he did because we will be able to bring about the peace of the world and mobilize hundreds and thousands of men (and women) to follow the way of Christ?”

Let your light shine, you salty people!!! Let’s change the flavor of this stew!!!

readings included Matthew 5:1-12, “What Jesus Means to Me by Mahatma Gandhi (found here) and Matthew 5:13-16. The full text of the Sermon by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. can be found here. 

Listen to the sermon here:

1 thought on “Jesus, Gandhi, and MLK – A Very Salty Trio: a sermon for Epiphany 5A

  1. This is one of the most brilliant-and timely- writings from Pr. Dawn Hutchings as she brings together the persons of Jesus, Ghandi and Martin Luther King Jr. and their collective theme of “Nonviolence”. Unlike Pr. Dawn I did grow up in the Church where I did hear about and met Jesus in the Eucharist and prayer but like Pr. Dawn I did not hear about Ghandi or Martin Luther King, Jr. in the Church. I learned of Ghandi through Martin Lutheran King, Jr. whom I met personally (twice) outside the Church. Before meeting Martin Luther King, Jr. and marching in the streets I learned of Albert Schweitzer in the public library where my philosophy of life and spiritual formation were informed by Abert Schweiter’s “Reverence for Life” which later opened the door for me to make a commitment to “Nonviolence” as a way life and living. It was through Martin Luther King, Jr.who introduced me to the word and a way of life and living known as “Nonviolence”. It was through Ghandi that I developed the daily practice of reading from the Sermon on the Mount since 1966 which has kept me grounded through thick and through thin. I would add the names of the late Fr. Daniel Berrigan, S.J. and my dear friend, Fr. John Dear to the current discussion of Nonviolence. Both have helped me see the Nonviolent Jesus and commit my life to him and to Nonviolence. Thank you Pr. Dawn for bringing these dear saints and the Gospel-value message of Nonviolence for our reflection today.
    Pr. Jon Fogleman

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