“If only you, Christians, acted more like your Christ the whole world would want to join you.” It is reported that Mohandas Gandhi used these or similar words when conversing about Jesus with a western missionary serving in India. The beloved mahatma’s critique that our actions are far from The One we claim to follow is a good challenge for us to take into Holy Week. This week, which begins in Catholic churches by proclaiming the passion of Christ, calls us to embrace not only His sorrow and suffering but also His attitude. Gandhi, who studied and imitated our Christ, understood this attitude better than most Christians.
What would it take for us, Christians, to act more like Christ? I think that, among other things, it would mean that we cease using religion as a weapon to compare, convince, connive or condemn. Among other things, it would mean that we endorse a culture of encounter by personally bringing spiritual faith to people, meeting them where they live. Among other things, it would mean humbling ourselves to the will of God who created us in His image and likeness and entrusted us with creation.
Each spring, at the Easter Vigil, we listen to the stories of creation and celebrate the covenant relationship that God has with us. God breathed spirit and life into our oldest ancestor; it was the Holy Spirit and it dwells in each of his descendants. As earth-beings, we are an extension of God upon this dwelling and we exist in communion with Him, with one another, and with all creation. What a humbling and fulfilling mission we have!
Jesus, the perfect manifestation of God, displayed that sacred spirit in His every encounter. He reached out to people—whether at a pool in Siloam, a wedding reception in Cana, a well in Samaria, on the shores of Galilee, the streets of Jericho, or the tombs of Bethany—where He met them in their laughter and their tears. He didn’t keep office hours or expect people to come to Him to experience divine grace. He went to them. He wasn’t preachy or condescending but compassionate and interested. In Jesus’ day, people were both isolated and connected at the same time. He helped them find deeper solitude with God and more meaningful community with others. Today we, especially young people, are even more simultaneously connected and isolated than then. Let us imitate Jesus’ attitude by expressing similar outreach in our encounters.
And He never used religion as a tool to guilt, embarrass, or shame people. Though He honored the temple and utilized it as the center of worship and chief gathering place for God’s people, He carried out God’s work in the “cathedral of the streets” through ordinary activities. Religion should be a vessel that holds faith, infuses faith into participants, and transports members to spiritual places of deeper faith. If a particular religion is not doing that, it should fold in the storms of earthly trials and tribulations. If it is, however, others will want to join, enter the vessel, and travel along in it to better face life’s challenges.
What might we do to act more like our Christ? There are a hundred—maybe a thousand—little and big things that we can do: plant a tree or garden, adopt a rescue animal, hold the hand of a dying person at a nursing home, tutor a child at a local school, speak with a co-worker about why your faith is important to you, help an elderly neighbor with tasks, and listen. Listening is the first act of love. These encounters reflect the spirit of life breathed into us by our Creator which we can, in turn, breathe into others. We can feel that life animate when we reverence other people, learn what motivates and sustains them, value their beliefs, understand their notion of love and how it has impacted them, share with them our passion for doing good, and talk with them about how God works in our life.
Most of us will never be foreign missionaries in faraway lands but we can carry forth His mission by being more like our Christ in interactions here at home. In this Holy Week, let us humbly honor our Christianity by infusing our passion with that of Jesus. By doing so, others will want to join us.