A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots.These words from Isaiah proclaim that the reign of God is coming, a new King will come to power, a new creation, a time of peace and tranquility even among foes, a time when God will again bring justice and peace to the land, through the line of King David.
The spirit of the LORD shall rest on him,
the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might,
the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD.
For Christians, this reading leads us to Jesus, born of the house of David, who came to bring peace and justice in the spirit of wisdom and understanding, who stands as a signal to all peoples.
For the people of South Africa, the one who brought wisdom and understanding into a time of great chaos and violence was Nelson Mandela. In his words:
“When a man is denied the right to live the life he believes in, he has no choice but to become an outlaw.”For Nelson Mandela, his fight was the right for the Black South Africans to have voice and vote, to end the racial segregation of Apartheid, to allow everyone to have their freedom. He advocated militant resistance to the government and apartheid. For his part in advocating violent resistance, he was imprisoned for 27 years.
Last January in our film and food night, we watched the movie The Color of Freedom – a movie from South Africa that is based on the true story of the white guard who was assigned to Nelson Mandela at Robbin Island prison and would continue to be his guard for all 27 years; he was first assigned because he could understand the tribal language form which Nelson Mandela came.
What was amazing to see, was how a white South African who came to hate the black majority and Nelson Mandela, would over time, begin to see him in a more positive light, would begun to understand the resistance to apartheid and racial segregation, begin to remember the days when racial discrimination was not the law of the land.
The movie captured in a beautiful way, how two people, Nelson Mandela and James Gregory would one day move from enemies who were suspicious of one another to friends who cared for one another.
It is this dynamic of change that for me is the most inspirational. Did Nelson Mandela believe that the only way to combat apartheid was through armed resistance? Yes. He believed the only way for things to change was to make the country ungovernable. (which did eventually happen)
But those years in prison, changed him. He had to wait. He had to be patient. He had to live into a hope that things would change. Like Paul’s exhortation that “what was written for our instruction, so that by steadfastness and by the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope.” Mandela lived into that hope. In his words:
“There were many dark moments when my faith in humanity was sorely tested, but I would not and could not give myself up to despair. That way lays defeat and death."That hope was rewarded when he became free in February 1990; he stepped out into a new South Africa. But it was not yet the country he wanted it to be. Officially apartheid was over, but there was so much left to be done. In 1994, he was elected president of South Africa. And what happened next, when he now had the power, displays how indeed he had changed. In the words of his friend, Archbishop Desmond Tutu:
“The truth is that the 27 years Madiba spent in the belly of the apartheid beast deepened his compassion and capacity to empathize with others. .. Instead of calling for his pound of flesh, he proclaimed the message of forgiveness and reconciliation, inspiring others by his example to extraordinary acts of nobility of spirit.What also stands out in my mind is another film about another significant event, the film Invictus takes place in post-apartheid South Africa in 1995.
He embodied what he proclaimed — he walked the talk. He invited his former jailer to attend his presidential inauguration as a VIP guest, and he invited the man who led the state’s case against him at the Rivonia Trial, calling for the imposition of the death penalty, to lunch at the presidency. He visited the widow of the high priest of apartheid, Betsy Verwoerd, in the white Afrikaner-only enclave of Orania.” (http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/on-faith/wp/2013/12/05/the-moral-courage-of-nelson-mandela/)
Everyone was expecting a bloodbath: the black majority demanded justice for the decades of poverty, brutality and oppression they have endured & the white minority is terrified. But Mandela, as portrayed by Morgan Freeman in the film, knows that score-settling would be disastrous for South Africa's new and fragile democracy. It is the Springbok Rugby Club that becomes Mandela's unlikely vehicle for reconciliation. To South African blacks, the all-white Springboks and their green and gold colors were as despised a symbol of white rule as the apartheid flag. The new black government wants to abolish the Springboks, but President Mandela overturns their decision. With the end of Apartheid and South Africa now scheduled to host the World Rugby Cup tournament for the first time in years, he sees the underachieving team as the vehicle for South Africa's return as a respected member of the world community. Mandela enlists the help of the Springboks' captain to transform the team from a hated symbol of arrogant white rule into an inspiring rallying point for the new South Africa. When confronted by his staff and cabinet about the plan, Mandela says, "Reconciliation starts here. Forgiveness starts here."In the words of Archbishop Tutu, “It was a gesture that did more for nation building and reconciliation than any number of preacher’s sermons or politician’s speeches.” (ibid)
In this time of our waiting, of hope for the future, we have an example of one who was changed from violence to peace, from aggression to reconciliation, who abounded in hope. Again in Madbia’s words:
“No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”So may we share the love of Christ in our world, in our words and actions, and help teach love, hope and faith by who we are, living into the Spirit of Christ. May Madiba, Nelson Mandela rest in peace & rise in glory and may we continue the work of reconciliation and forgiveness as we live in hope just as he did. Amen.