(Originally written for Speaking to the Soul, February 12, 2012)
Readings for the feast day of Charles Freer Andrews, February 12:
If we know of Charles Freer Andrews at all, we probably have an image of the rugged looks of Ian Charleson--"Charlie" of the movie Gandhi. A quick Google Images search, however, yields photos of a man who looks a lot more like a mad monk than the lean, handsome Charleson of Richard Attenborough's movie. Often pictured in traditional Indian garb, the real-life Andrews was noticeable by his moderately long beard and his intense, piercing eyes. The Mahatma himself claimed that Andrews' initials stood for "Christ's Faithful Apostle" because of his tireless work in India's independence and in the abolition of indentured servitude. Although the British Empire had abolished slavery, the practice of indenturing servants was alive and well in Britannia's empire.
Andrews never married--but what I have read about him led me to believe he was married to India. He was married to his sense of justice. He was married to the Christ-like notion of comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable. The British political hierarchy and the Church of England ecclesiastical hierarchy found him to be quite a prickly character in that regard--Englishmen who sided with the struggles of "the colonials" were generally thought to be traitors for questioning their motives and their methods. Some went to far as to denounce him as a traitor to the land of his birth and the church that had ordained him--even a traitor to the very faith he had been sent to preach.
It is surprising, in these precarious economic times, that his words and his prophetic words have fallen into relative obscurity--a quick search on Amazon.com shows several out of print (and slightly overpriced) works. He was a proponent of the Christian Socialist movement, which followed a very strict definition of the word "usury." Usury, if looked at in a biblical and historical sense, was defined by "the accumulation of wealth beyond what is required to meet the responsibilities of station"--not just as it applied to interest rates. He questioned the morality of his own Church of England's Western/Eurocentric view of Christianity, demanding it to fully embrace humanity, not just the "white races."
"If the desire of possession in a man is stronger than the sense of brotherhood," he wrote, "he may be a tyrant or a slave, or both in one. He in whom a sense of brotherhood is uppermost may suffer, even to death, but he will preserve society from destruction. Through that suffering he will surely rise to the conception of one common humanity, called into existence by one Father, redeemed by one incarnate Savior, quickened by one infinite Spirit."
Our readings today call us to truly embrace "the other," in a way far beyond money and lip service. Our Psalm praises a God who "raises the poor from the dust, and lifts the needy from the ash heap, to make them sit with princes, with the princes of his people." Our passage in Deuteronomy reminds us "Since there will never cease to be some in need on the earth, I therefore command you, “Open your hand to the poor and needy neighbor in your land.”" Paul, in Ephesians, exhorts us that we are "no longer strangers and aliens," but are "citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone." Finally, Matthew's Gospel calls each of us to servanthood, reminding us that "All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted."
Are we ready to embrace the radical discipleship of the Gospel as it was understood by the real Charles Freer Andrews, or is it easier to watch the dashing and likable Charlie in a re-run of Gandhi?