The Least of These
Recently I had an opportunity to watch the movie premier of “The Least of These”. This is a story that deserves to be told today, especially in India. Aneesh Daniel and his team, especially Sharman Joshi, did a great job in bringing this story alive. The story is about a journalist, Manav Banerjee (Sharman Joshi) who agrees to investigate undercover for a local newspaper on the work of an Australian missionary Graham Staines, who along with his wife Gladys, was treating leprosy patients at their leprosy home where they live, in Baripada, Orissa, India. As there was a speculation that this missionary is illegally converting leprosy patients to Christianity, Manav was really excited to take up the assignment. In his pursuit to find evidence to prove that Graham was illegally converting people, he encountered many experiences which made him quite puzzled. Manav’s actions sparked anger among the locals, which eventually led to the killing of the missionary and his two young boys, by setting ablaze the van they were sleeping in. Manav was forced to make a choice between telling the truth and pursuing his initial ambition.
This story about love, sacrifice, forgiveness and search for truth gives us hope in these times of hate, violence and fake news. One of the censor board members appreciated the team for telling this story so sensibly. This is a movie for all people, it has something to teach us in building a great nation. Though I enthusiastically recommend all my friends from all faiths to watch this movie, I think we as the church in India, need this like never before.
Gladys and Graham embraced and loved the least of the people, followed their Lord even to the death, forgave their killers. After the death of her husband and her boys Gladys said “I have forgiven the killers and have no bitterness because forgiveness brings healing and our land needs healing from hatred and violence.” They just did not heal the external leprosy but most importantly the leprosy within. Within ourselves and within our society.
Can I allow this story to point the leprosy within me? It is easy to notice leprosy in the other person, but difficult to identify within, because I cannot sense it. Can I identify myself as the leper who fell at the feet of Jesus asking “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean”, clean me from my pride, bitterness, hatred, jealousy, self-righteousness, envy, indifference, slander, gossip, anger, arrogance, hypocrisy, impure thoughts, sexual immorality, covetousness. Make me whole with your love, so that I may love those whom I don’t like, forgive those who hate me, and live not for myself but for you in service to others.
What about the leprosy within the body of Christ? You may ask, can the body of Christ be infected with leprosy? If the temple of God could be turned to a den of robbers then, it can happen as well. Jesus said to the Church in Ephesus, “But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first”. (Revelation 2:4). To the Church in Laodicea, ”I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.” (Revelation 3:15–17) Can we sense the love for money, power, fame and pleasures deeply infected the body of Christ today? How can we be made whole again to the perfect image of Christ? May be Paul’s encouragement in the letter to the Philippians can guide us? “ Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus ,who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (Philippians 2:3-8)
This story gives us another opportunity to honestly introspect and repent. Plan to watch the movie as a family and as a local Church. Ask for yourself, what is God asking you to consider as an individual and as a local church from the life and work of Gladys and Graham Staines. Are only missionaries called to serve people? How can you as a local church serve your community around you?
Thanks to Mohan for editing.