After being confined to Robben Island for most of his 27 years in prison, Nelson Mandela walked out of prison 26 years ago, on February 11, 1990 and into the arms of a South Africa on the verge of transformation. He became South Africa’s first black president four years later on May 10, 1994 and it soon became evident that his goal as President was reconciliation rather than revenge. His selfless brand of leadership not only surprised the world and won him universal accolades, but as you can imagine surprised many Whites in South Africa who were fearing the opposite.
He left office in 1999 and passed away in 2013 at the age of 95. One of his most memorable quotes was:
“As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom,
I knew if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison.”
Imprisoned in a damp concrete cell measuring 8 feet (2.4 m) by 7 feet (2.1 m), with a straw mat on which to sleep and being verbally and physically harassed by prison officials, he had plenty to be bitter about and to hate.
Nelson Mandela lived out the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus said
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you. (Matthew 5. 38 – 42).
Jesus also said
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5. 43-48)
May you take time out and reflect on the words of Christ and how Nelson Mandela lived them out and how each of us can do the same. Many of the teachings of the Sermon on the Mount are transformative as was Mandela and as we can be if we listen and act on the words of our Divine Teacher.