His name is Sanjeet Singh Saluja.
He is a medical doctor.
He lives in Canada.
He is Sikh
Recently he shaved his beard, generally forbidden in the Sikh religion, in order to more safely serve the patents presenting themselves for his care. Beards, some contend, trap the virus in ways that not even masks can remedy.
Does this act of selfless compassion make this man a Christian?
Twenty-seven million people around the world practice Sikhism. The men signal this by wearing beards and turbans; they stand out in any crowd.
Their faith teaches them of one creator and the equality of all people; it calls them to work for justice, to serve with compassion, and to act with honesty.
Yes, indeed—it would be easy to think such believers are Christians, or Jews, or Muslims!
Surely there are ways Sikhs can serve humanity without compromising their religious practice, but somebody along the line of authority in his hospital could not figure out how to do that—itself a serious shortcoming; so they asked him to cut his beard, and he did.
Giving up something of significance for the well-being of others is a fundamental element of true religion by whatever name. As a Christian, I can certainly say—that is precisely what Jesus did time and again, even to the point of death. He gave up his life for us.
Surrender and sacrifice are at the heart of the worship of God and the confession, “Jesus is Lord”. Which makes me admire Dr. Saluja.
And it throws into sharp relief the behavior of many Christians I know who resent giving up something—public worship—for the safety of the community. The pages, pulpits, and plazas have been filled with angry Christians, repudiating the call to suspend church because of the Coronavirus. They quote the first amendment about freedom of religion and accuse the government of suppressing their rights.
Well, maybe—but I find this appeal weak and wanting in logic, especially in theo-logic. And I read in my Bible, in the most beloved of all chapters—First Corinthians 13: “Love does not demand its own way”.
Love is surrendering something we have a right to do in order to accommodate the needs of others. Parents, lovers, and friends do this all the time, as do the people we call saints, and I mean the ordinary saints that obey the call of Jesus to “deny self and take up a cross” in order to follow Jesus.
Some equate “Christian” with adherence to a creed or confession of faith and others stipulate compliance with rituals of water, food, and such. But from the beginning, I was taught the name “Christian” is for those who follow Jesus—who feel, and think, and speak, and act like Jesus. We were urged to ask the simple question “What would Jesus do?”
That, to me, is religion true and undefiled.
Jesus practiced perfectly this rule of life: give up what is precious to you in order that to serve the needs of others. “I lay down my life…. no one takes it from me”, he said on one occasion.
Worship is precious to me. I love the look and feel and sound of worship. I have been shaped by the singing, the praying, the preaching, even the shaking of the right hand of fellowship. I have missed it all these past few weeks, and I will be glad when it is safe (for old people like me) to resume my place in the pew.
But I have not hesitated to give up this first freedom. The needs of people offer me the opportunity to give up something I love to help save people around me. It is, I am convinced, what Jesus would do.
I am sure he would commend Dr. Sanjeet Singh Saluja for his simple act of surrender. While some Christians are tempted, like their counterparts of old, to call down judgment on these “unbelievers”, I feel called to say, “Isn’t that so like our Jesus!”
I know shaving a beard does not give me permission to stamp a person with my religious identity. But I will not be surprised if, at the gates before which we shall all stand, my Lord himself does not embrace the good doctor and say, “Well done, good and faithful servant. Enter now into the kingdom prepared for you.”