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.