Sunday, December 13, 2009


"Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." Lk. 23:34

Invictus is an incredible story of reconciliation and the triumph of forgiveness.

The events of the story are based in real life: anti-apartheid activist Nelson Mandela (Morgan Freeman), freed from 27 years in prison, becomes the first democratically elected president of South Africa and in his first term in office, charts a new course for reconciliation between the white and black populations of his country - using rugby as the lynch pin.

Mandela looks to the Springboks, South Africa's national rugby team, to rally the nation together across racial lines. For years, while the team was loved by the white people, it was despised by the black population because it symbolized apartheid. But Mandela, who once hated the team, believes that mutual support of this sport might help build bridges towards national peace.

To do that, he takes time out of governing a country to inspire and motivate the team's captain Francois Pienaar (Matt Damon), who in turn rallys his teammates to victory.

While the sports story is exciting to follow as the Springboks make their way to the 1995 World Cup, the more inspiring tale is the one between a president and his country After 27 years in prison, Nelson Mandela could have governed in anger and vengence; but instead, he looked at the white people of South Africa and said again the words of Christ on the cross: "Father, forgive them for they know not what they do." (Lk. 23:24)

Mandela charted a course towards bold forgiveness, the kind Jesus spoke about in Scripture. For instance, scholars tells us that "when someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn and give him the other" (Mt. 5:39) means that a blow to the right cheek is an ancient sign of agression against a lesser person; however when you offer the left cheek (causing the aggressor to fight you with an open hand, not the back of the hand) levels the playing field.

Mandela was doing just that. By rooting for a team that the white people of South Africa loved was a way to level the playing field - and a route to bold forgiveness. He then asked his fellow black countrymen to do the same: forgive the aggressor by loving what they love.

Invictus is a story of inspiration to anyone beaten down by oppression - personally and societally. "Forgiveness is good for the soul," says Morgan Freeman's Mandela. Forgiveness levels the playing field and takes the wind out of the sails of the oppressor.

Who in your life angers you? Who frustrates you at every opportunity? Do they make you feel insignificant or belittled by their words or actions?

The people who come to mind for you are the people that Mandela, in the spirit of Christ, are asking us to forgive, for they know not what they are doing. These are the people whom Jesus commands us to boldly turn the other cheek, level the playing field, and love unconditionally. This is a hard road, but that's why we have inspiring role models like Mandela to urge us on.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Nelson Mandela had a lesson for his people but he also had a lesson for Francois Pienaar. That was the message I heard in the story.

It was spoken in a scene where Mandela's black body guard goes to meet and escort his new white bodyguard to meet him. The white body guard asks "What's he like?" and the black body guard answers "Nobody is invisible."

Mandela repeatedly treats those arround him like they are important: learning their names, treating them and their ideas with respect, no matter their station, job title, or skin color. He learned their names, their families' names, their health issues, noticed their dress, and gave them dignity. He always kept an open door and treated their ideas and concerns with respect.

I am not knowledgeable enough or in posession of a concordance to quote the exact verses, but I am reminded of our Lord when he takes time during a dinner to recognize Mary of Bethany for her efforts. Another when he notices little Zaccheus up in a tree. Or when he allows the prostitute to wash his feet with her hair. It was Christ who did say to us: "When you do something for the least of my brothers and sisters, you did it for me." (Mt. 25:40)

I left the movie theater thinking about my job. I'm in the resturaunt industry. I was once told that the most important employee or person in the resturaunt is the dish washer. Without clean plates nothing would be served. Often it is also the dishwasher's job to take out the trash. So, in a sense, the "lowliest job" turns out to be the most important of all. Wouldn't the Lord get a chuckle out of that?!

I think that Mandela realized this. That is also the lesson he taught Pienaar. He learned to see beyond skin color in the children of South Africa. He learned to see beyond class or station in his family housekeeper. He learned to see Mandela as a leader, an inspiration and a man, and not just a black man.

How many of us know the name of the bank teller or the cashier at the grocery store? Do we think about the busser or the dish washer when we go out to eat? How about just the server's name? Do you know the name of your mailman or trash man?

Many buisnesses require a person to wear a name tag or state their name ("Hi my name is... and how may I help you?") The next time you encounter this, try using their name and see the reaction. It just might amaze you.

Thank you, Paul, for bringing us the message of God through the movies.