From the Letter of Jude:
I find it necessary to write and appeal to you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints.
(From the Daily Office Lectionary – Jude 1:3 (NRSV) – December 6, 2013.)
Nelson Mandela, an example of justice, courage, wisdom, patience, strength, love, hope, faith, forgiveness, and reconciliation, known to his countrymen and people of grace around the world as “Madiba,” died yesterday evening at the age of 95. His death was not unexpected; he had been ailing for quite a long time. This may be St. Nicholas Day, but really there’s no choice but to consider and write about Mr. Mandela!
He once wrote, “No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”
That, I think, is the faith entrusted to the saints. It has nothing to do with intellectual acceptance of doctrines and dogmas, with creeds and confessions. Faith has to do with trust; in fact, the word in the Greek New Testament translated as “faith,” pisteuo, would better be rendered as “trust” in many circumstances. Faith is not some substance or trait of character that one can have to a greater or lesser extent. Faith is an action of the will, a decision to trust in something or someone other than yourself. To have faith is to love another.
Madiba also said that to be truly free “is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.” That way of life is the way of faith, I think, the way of trust, the way of love.
He was imprisoned for 27 years! Eighteen of those were at Robben Island, where he was addressed officially only as “Inmate No. 466/64.” Even in his prison cell, even with that dehumanizing treatment, when released to freedom and eventually to political power he did not engage in revenge. He said, after leaving prison, “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.”
With Anglican Archbishop of Capetown Desmond Tutu, who led the South African Truth and Reconciliation process, President Mandela steered his country on a path of peace, justice, forgiveness, and trust. That is faith in action, the faith entrusted to the saints!
Rest eternal grant to him, O Lord;
And let light perpetual shine upon him.
May Madiba’s soul, and the souls of all the departed,
through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.
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Father Funston is the rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio.