Summary: Nelson Mandela chose to persevere in his life’s mission regardless of the cost and hardship, just like Christians everywhere are to persevere in their mission from God regardless of the cost and hardship.
Before I deliver my homily this morning, I’d like to say a few words about the passing of Nelson Mandela this past Thursday.
How can I describe in a few words and a few moments what he meant to the people of South Africa and the world? How can I describe his legacy in a short amount of time? Well, let me start by saying this. Nelson Mandela’s life was a good example of the life Christ calls us to lead. Nelson Mandela devoted his life to doing what was right. Christ calls on us to remember the prisoners, free the oppressed and care for the sick. Through his struggle against the apartheid regime in South Africa and later through his concern for the people suffering from AIDS (a disease that claimed one of his own sons), Nelson Mandela followed the example of Christ and set an example for us as Christians to follow. He was an example of the words of Christ in John 13:34: “Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another”.
His life reflected his faith. In an interview that aired on CBC Radio this past Thursday, he mentioned that he was raised in the Methodist Church, but while he was in prison he was exposed to other denominations including the Anglican Church. Was he perfect? No. He was married three times and divorced twice. He took an active part in making the African National Congress a violent voice in the struggle against apartheid. This might seem to be un-Christian behaviour, but we must remember that in Old Testament times God allowed and even encouraged the Israelites to use armed force against their enemies. In modern times violence has been needed to defeat an even greater evil. For example, Hitler’s evil plans were defeated by the use of violence during World War II.
The African National Congress’ use of violence led to Nelson Mandela’s arrest on a couple of occasions and eventually to his imprisonment for 27 years. Under these circumstances one could understand if he resorted to violent revenge when he was finally released in 1990, but he chose the “high road”. He chose dialogue with the apartheid regime, and in 1991 he became head of the ANC. The dialogue led to the abolishing of the apartheid regime and Mr. Mandela’s election in 1994 as the first black President of South Africa. Again, he followed the example of Christ. Christ did not seek violent revenge against those who persecuted him. On the contrary, he forgave them, just like Nelson Mandela sought reconciliation with the regime that persecuted him and black South Africans. He forgave them, and that put him in the same category as people such as Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Pope John Paul II and Mother Theresa-people who showed Christ’s love to a poor, evil, hurting world.
Life is like riding a horse. Sometimes the rider will fall off. When that happens, he has two choices. He can sit down and give up or he can get up, dust himself off, climb back on the horse and continue the journey. Nelson Mandela chose to persevere in his life’s mission regardless of the cost and hardship, just like Christians everywhere are to persevere in their mission from God regardless of the cost and hardship. As he rode off into the sunset of his life this past Thursday and arrived at the Pearly Gates, Jesus likely greeted him with the words found in Matthew 25:21-“Well done, good and faithful servant”.