Mandela: The sinner who kept on trying

Your Family Matters with PASTOR CHANDA
TODAY I was watching a video recording of Nelson Mandela, the first black South African President.

The recording was done after his presidency and it was during a public forum at the Baker Institute for Public Policy at the Rice University.
He was asked a question by a twelve-year-old in the audience. The question was, “I would like to know, Mr President, what you most want to be remembered for doing. What means the most to you in your heart?”
That is ever a tricky question. How did he answer it?
Mandela’s initial answer was a joke. He said that he would like to be remembered as a ninety-one year-old pensioner who was looking for a job.
After that joke, he went on to state that it was for humanity or a society to decide how he should be remembered.
Mandela recalled a BBC commentator who had stated that he was a useless chap who had done nothing either for his country or for humanity.
Mandela responded by welcoming the statement because it destroyed the myth that he was an angel who could not be criticised.
Mandela said, “I have never wanted to be regarded as an angel. I am an ordinary human being with weaknesses—some of them fundamental. I have made many mistakes in my life. I am not a saint, unless you think of a saint as a sinner who keeps on trying.”
He got a standing ovation for that classic answer!
Where I was sitting I also stood up and clapped in my heart, if you see what I mean.
Very few of us would have thought of such a self-effacing answer after the kind of distinguished career in politics that Mandela had.
I am sure that many people reading the heading of this week’s column would have felt outraged by it.
How can anyone dare to call Nelson Mandela a sinner? Well, surprise, surprise, it was Nelson Mandela himself who referred to himself with such humble words!
If I had been standing in Mandela’s shoes, I probably would have said that I would want to be remembered as the man who brought true democracy to South Africa and united the different races of that country.
Let us face it; that was one of his chief achievements.
Perhaps I would have also expected Nelson Mandela to say that he would like to be remembered as a man who did not have any bitterness towards those who betrayed him and ill-treated him during his incarceration for twenty-six years.
That would also be true.
Yet, Mandela swept all that aside and instead concentrated on bringing realism to an audience that was more than ready to turn him into a small god.
He put a pin into the balloon of their inflated view of him. “I am an ordinary human being with weaknesses,” he said.
Mandela’s answer reminds me of a similar statement that was made by the Apostle Paul.
He said, “I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am” (1 Cor. 15:9–10).
One of the signs of true leadership is unfeigned humility. A truly humble person is more conscious of his failures than of his successes. He knows that there is only one good person who ever walked on this earth and that is the Lord Jesus Christ. All others are sinners.
I was particularly moved by the fact that Nelson Mandela used the S-word.
He said that he was a “sinner”. That old-fashioned word is fast running out of our vocabulary.
Today, we view everyone as fundamentally good, especially if they are parents or leaders.
We need to bring this s-word back into day-to-day speech. We are all sinners.
As Cassius said to Brutus in William Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves….”
That is where our fault and failure are. It is in ourselves!
If our children are to become great, they must learn humility. If they are to build skyscrapers, they must dig a very deep foundation.
Those who think they are the greatest thing that has happened to humanity will soon come tumbling down. Pride goes before a fall.
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