Because Gandhi came to the message of Jesus unfettered by the traditions and doctrines that are commonly understood as “Christianity” his heart was free to respond deeply to the good news that Jesus’ advent brought to humankind. Gandhi understood Jesus’ gospel of the kingdom with greater clarity than most of us who call ourselves Christian. We’ll let Gandhi speak for himself:
I have never been able to reconcile myself to the gaieties of the Christmas season. They have appeared to me to be so inconsistent with the life and teaching of Jesus. Jesus preached not a new religion but a new life. He called men to repentance. It was he who said, "Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven". I am sure that if He were living here now among men, He would bless the lives of many who perhaps have never even heard His name, if only their lives embodied the virtues of which He was a living example on earth; the virtues of loving one's neighbour as oneself and of doing good and charitable works among one's fellow men.
For though we (sing), "All glory to God on High and on the earth be peace," there seems to be today neither glory to God nor peace on earth. As long as it remains a hunger still unsatisfied, as long as Christ is not yet born, we have to look forward to Him. When real peace is established, we will not need demonstrations, but it will be echoed in our life, not only in individual life, but in corporate life. Then we shall say Christ is born. That to me is the real meaning of the verse we (sing). Then we will not think of a particular day in the year as that of the birth of the Christ, but as an ever-recurring event which can be enacted in every life…
When, therefore, one wishes "A Happy Christmas" without the meaning behind it, it becomes nothing more than an empty formula. And unless one wishes for peace for all life, one cannot wish for peace for oneself. It is a self-evident axiom, like the axioms of Euclid, that one cannot have peace unless there is in one an intense longing for peace all around.
And so, as the miraculous birth is an eternal event, so is the Cross an eternal event in this stormy life. Therefore, we dare not think of birth without death on the cross. Living Christ means a living Cross, without it life is a living death.
Jesus lived and died in vain if he did not teach us to regulate the whole of life by the eternal Law of Love.
It is my firm opinion that (the West) today represents not the spirit of God or Christianity but the spirit of Satan. And Satan's successes are the greatest when he appears with the name of God on his lips. (The West) is today only nominally Christian. It is really worshipping Mammon. 'It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom.' Thus really spoke Jesus Christ. Here you have an eternal rule of life stated in the noblest words the English language is capable of producing. But the disciples nodded unbelief as we do to this day. His so-called followers measure their moral progress by their material possessions.
I rebel against orthodox Christianity, as I am convinced that it has distorted the message of Jesus. He was an Asiatic whose message was delivered through many media, and when it had the backing of a Roman Emperor it became an imperialist faith as it remains to this day. Christ died on the Cross with a crown of thorns on his head defying the might of a whole empire.
The message of Jesus, as I understand it, is contained in his Sermon on the Mount unadulterated and taken as a whole. This teaching was non-retaliation, or non-resistance to evil. The virtues of mercy, non-violence, love and truth in any man can be truly tested only when they are pitted against ruthlessness, violence, hate and untruth. With His dying breath on his Cross he is reported to have said: "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do."
How I wish America could lead the way by devoting the season to a real moral stocktaking and emphasizing consecration to the service of mankind for which Jesus lived and died on the Cross.
All quotes taken from What Jesus Means to Me by M.K. Ghandi. Compiled by R.K. Prabhu © Navajivan Trust 1959