Former South African President Nelson Mandela is remembered in death, as he was revered in life, for many good reasons. He was a bold, courageous leader who made a firm stand against injustice, calling not only his nation toward change and repentance but also the world. Yet, he was also a wise, loving leader who taught us to forgive.
“Resentment is like drinking poison," Mandela warned, "and then hoping it will kill our enemies.” Rather than hold onto self-destructive resentment, he taught us, “If you want to make peace with your enemy, you have to work with your enemy. Then he becomes your partner.”
President Mandela knew from experience that he had to forgive for his own sake. “As I walked out the door towards the gate that would lead to my freedom," he realized, "I knew that if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison.” He observed in his own life, “You will achieve more in this world through acts of mercy than you will through acts of retribution.”
This man of uncommon vision saw how those who sought to harm him and others, instead of listening and showing mercy, failed in all they did. He knew that to ultimately reach the beautiful future that we all dream of there is a way to get there.
“Two roads could be named Goodness and Forgiveness.” Few of us travel those roads, even in the church. We fail to do good for those who are crying out for justice and mercy; and we do not listen or respond to the cries of the needy. Then too often, we repeat the cycle of ugliness in the world, rather than forgive and show mercy and treat others with justice.
Nelson Mandela was one of those rare persons who tried to walk on the roads of Goodness and Forgiveness. He led his people through a time of healing with truth and reconciliation. Healing is a long process, It was a lifelong struggle for Nelson Mandela, and it will be for us. But it is a good struggle.
"I am not a saint," admitted the man affectionately known to his people as Madiba, "unless you consider a saint to be someone who fails but keeps on trying." Let us all strive to be saints by that definition, as we wage the good struggle and walk the two good roads where we find his footsteps leading the way.