Mahatma Gandhi was once asked what he thought about western civilization. “I think,” he replied, “that it would be a very good idea.“ There are many things that characterize a civilization, but what really makes a people civilized? Let me ask some other questions, that may seem to be unrelated. What’s the secret to happiness? What makes a business worthy of existence? What’s the sign of an emotionally and mentally healthy person? How can we tell if Emmanuel Memorial is faithful to the Gospel? On this Father’s Day, what is a father’s responsibility to teach his children, both by word and example, that will help them the most to lead productive lives?
The answer to all of these questions, whether we speak of whole civilizations, businesses, families, or individuals, is love. The song that was popular when I was a teenager is, “What the world needs now is love, sweet love.“ The Beatles sang about it: “All you need is love.” The songs are right to a degree – what the world needs is love, all you need is love—but it’s hardly a kind of love that can be characterized by the word sweet. It’s a love that isn’t an emotions with a feeling. It’s a love that comes from the will. It’s the intention one has for the physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being of another person or persons, and it is expressed in deeds of compassion, forgiveness, and charity, with no expectation of return. This love is sometimes sweet, but more often it’s sacrificial, contrary to human nature, and difficult.
Most of you are old enough to remember a little book, titled, All I Really Need to Know, I Learned in Kindergarten, by Robert Fulghum. He tells a story about V. P. Minon, who was a significant political figure in India during the struggle for independence after World War II. Two characteristics of Minon stood out as particularly memorable – a kind of aloof, impersonal efficiency, and a reputation for personal charity. His daughter explained the background of the latter trait after he died. When Minon arrived in Delhi to seek a job in government, all of his possessions, including his money and ID, were stolen at the railroad station. He would have to return home on foot, defeated.
In desperation, he turned to an elderly Sikh, explained his trouble, and asked for a temporary loan of 15 rupees to tide him over until he could get a job. When Minon asked for his address, so he could repay the man, the Sikh said he owed the debt to any stranger who came to him in need so long as he lived. The help came from a stranger, and was to be repaid to a stranger.
Minon never forgot that debt. His daughter said that the day before Minon died, a begger came to the family home in Bangalore asking for help to buy new sandals, for his feet were covered with sores. Minon asked his daughter to take 15rupees out of his wallet to give to the man. It was Minon‘s last conscious act.
And there’s even more to this story. Fulghum relates that this story was told to him by a man whose name he didn’t know. He was standing beside him at the baggage counter at the airport. Fulghum had come to reclaim his bags and had no Indian currency left. The agent wouldn’t take a traveler’s check, and Fulgham was uncertain about getting his luggage and making the next plane. The man paid the claim check fee—about 80cents— and told Fulghum the story about Minon, as a way of refusing his attempts to figure out how to repay him. His father had been Minon’s assistant, and had learned Minon‘s charitable ways and passed them on to his son. Some might call his story “love in action,“ but that’s superfluous, for true love always expresses itself in action.
Jesus sent the 12 disciples out, not just to preach about the kingdom of heaven, which they were indeed to do, but also to do the work of God. “Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons,“ our Lord told his disciples. In other words, he told his disciples to give of their all in meeting the needs of people who were hurting, diseased, even dead.
Such loving service is the responsibility of the Church to this day. Every Christian is called to this ministry, not only for the sake of helping people with their problems, but also as a sign to the world that the kingdom of God is at hand,
The extent to which this principle of self-giving love is realized in the lives of people is the extent to which that people is civilized. The business that operates on that principle wins the right to exist. The individual who lives under such a rule is at least on the road to emotional, psychological, and spiritual well-being. And on this Father’s Day, the father,l who teaches such self-giving love to his children, and who teaches them from whence that love comes, has given them the best gift he can give; for this is the same love which God the Father has shown us in his Son, Jesus Christ.