by Fikile-Ntsikelelo Moya
Mention the name Saman Gunan in a discussion about modern-day heroes and you will most likely be met by either blank stares or a furious scratching of the head by those struggling to remember why the name sounds familiar.
Saman Gunan is the name of the Navy SEAL diver who died in the Thiam Luang Nang Non cave in Thailand while trying to rescue the schoolboys that were trapped there for nearly two weeks before they were all rescued.
The Gospel of St John records Christ saying: “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:13)
It is irrelevant to discuss what faith community Saman Gunan belonged to – if any. For all we know he could have been a devout atheist. In these days of religious fundamentalism and proselytizing, it is easy to forget that faith is expressed best when it is in the service of humanity.
Yet his willingness to lay down his life, not just for his friends, but for children that he probably did not even know existed, is a reminder of just how the human spirit is moved to be there for the other – Ubuntu/Botho – is embedded in the human genetic makeup.
In the words famously, and contentiously, ascribed to St Francis of Assisi: “Preach the gospel at all times, and when necessary, use words,” we are offered a stark reminder. Less contested and a source of an equally profound call are the words of Jesuit priest St Peter Claver (1581-1654), who said that “We must speak with our hands before we speak with our lips.”
This is a message that is lost to many faith communities who waste time debating why their religious dogmas or practices are better than those of another.
This does not mean that we must all be prepared to die. At the young age of 38 years, it is not unreasonable to assume that Saman Gunan and his family would regard his an untimely death.
The difference between heroes like Saman Gunan and many of us is that we would rather mute the instinct to serve the greater good at the expense of our personal comforts. Far too many of those who profess faith seem to think that the cramming of religious texts, the ability to recite and name the relevant chapter and verse, when called upon to do so, is of utmost importance.
The message that we learn from Saman Gunan’s life and death is that we must all be ready to use the skills and resources that we have to do whatever we can to ease the plight of those around us, even to the point in which we could bring ourselves into harm’s way.
We do not need to know the intimate details of Saman Gunan’s life and whether he believed in the same things we believe in. In his life and death we see the meaning of loving another as oneself. We too are invited to lay down our lives. The live feed of the rescue operation vividly showed the gospel in action. Whatever we do to the least among us, we do it for Christ himself.