23rd Sunday of Ordinary time

In his autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom, Nelson Mandela recounts an occasion when he was called to the main office of the prison on Robben Island.

General Steyn was visiting the island and wanted to know from Mandela if the prisoners had any complaints.

Mandela had been chosen by the prisoners as their spokesman.

The officer in charge of the prison, a man named Colonel Piet Badenhorst, was also present. Badenhorst was equally feared and hated by the prisoners.

In a calm, but forceful and truthful manner, Mandela informed the visitor about the chief complaints of the prisoners. He did so without bitterness or recrimination.

The general duly took note of what Mandela had to say, which amounted to a damning indictment of Badenhorst’s regime.

The following day Badenhorst went to Mandela and said, “ I am leaving the island. I just want to wish you people good luck.“

The remark left Mandela dumbfounded, and he thought about the incident for a long time afterwards.

Badenhorst had perhaps been the most callous and barbaric commanding officer they had had on the island. But the incident showed that there was another side to his nature.

Mandela concludes, ‘it goes to show that even the most seemingly cold-blooded have a core of decency, and that if their hearts are touched, they are capable of changing.‘

‘ Am I my brother’s keeper ‘, Cain responded to God’s inquiry about Abel, and the same reasoning has been, and still is used to this day; we call it ‘turning a blind eye ‘. On such occasions, it is astounding how noisy silence is!

The Christian response is, as St Paul exclaims, “ to speak the truth in love “ (Eph. 4:15)

Or, with equal acclamation, St Paul says in our second reading, “love is the one thing that cannot hurt your neighbour.” (Rms. 13:10)

Jesus is even more dramatic, “ love one another as I have loved you “ (Jn. 13:34)