In his sermon, Jesus’ Inauguration Day, Samuel Wells Dean of Chapel Duke University tells us that Mark’s gospel describes three phases in the life of Jesus: Jesus the Messiah, Jesus the suffering servant and the cosmic Jesus.
This well crafted message of Reverend Wells teaches that some of Jesus’ followers tend to associate him with only one or two of these life phases. But Mark’s gospel clearly describes Jesus as a full participant in each of these life phases.
Professor Wells posits that these people mistakenly expect their lives to follow a similar abbreviated pattern. Continuing he says, when life presents them the life phase they eschew from Jesus’ life, they tend to experience spiritual disappointment.
In this message the Reverend Doctor Wells teaches that Jesus’ followers should fully embrace each of these three life phases because each phase prepares one for a deeper spiritual understanding, thereby positioning the person for a mature spiritual life.
The movie, Invictus, displays these three life phases in the life of Nelson Mandela, the political prisoner who becomes the first black president of South Africa.
Invictus does not followed Mark’s ordering of Jesus’ life phases but all are present.
The movie opens with Mandela ( Morgan Freeman) in the Messiah role.
His country suffers a deep racial divide from the now legally defunct apartheid. Mark’s gospel presents Jesus driving out an evil spirit in his first healing. Invictus presents Mandela at a community meeting preparing to drive out an evil spirit in his first public act.
In this scene, some black citizens prepare to vote in order to change the name and colors of the country’s rugby team. White South Africans had a passion for rugby. It was their game, their soul. To eliminate it or to change it was to cut deeply their soul.
Mandela stands against the action. He espouses a gospel against vengeance. Inclusion and forgiveness are to be his design to heal the racial divide and to forge a nonracial South Africa. His voice wins the action of the day.
Invictus presents to the moviegoer some of the stories and incidents that make the healing possible.
Messiahs gather followers, charge their them with a mission and equip them to usher in a new order. Mandela follows this law.
The new president takes an interest in rugby, invites the country’s rugby captain (Matt Damon) for tea and communicates his desire for a competitive rugby run. His forthrightness captivates the rugby captain, who believes and is converted to make the president’s desire a reality. This is a messiah recruiting an apostle.
The captain’s faith in the sincerity of his president infects his teammates. They are converted to discipleship. The team travels the South African countryside to give rugby training sessions to black youth. The sessions bond black youth to the previously despised sport of the once ruling class. The black citizenry warms to rugby and to the rugby team.
Mark’s gospel thoroughly develops the life of Jesus as a suffering servant, Invictus gives only glimpses of the suffering servant through flashbacks of a laboring Mandela during incarceration – a period of 27 years.
This is a parting of the movie from Mark’s gospel. For in the gospel, the suffering servant endures a horrible death, rises and then is taken away on a cloud in his glory as cosmic Jesus.
Against infinitesimal odds, the rugby team plays for the rugby world cup. The country’s stadium is packed for the event. By television the rest of the nation intently watches. The team wins.
South Africa erupts into celebration.
During these moments of celebration South Africans who previously felt an uneasiness about each other united to express a common pride in their rugby team. Rugby had cracked the curtain forged by apartheid.
Invictus shows the cosmic Mandela glorified as he waved to 60,000 South Africans chanting his name in the celebrating stadium. Mandela is in his glory.
The celebration, a natural act, had spiritually transformed the country. The healing process had begun when all South Africans began to emotionally support the rugby team.
The journeyman actor, Morgan Freeman, comfortably plays a respectable smiling Nelson Mandela. Without effort he brandishes the known attributes of this famous man. His costar, Matt Damon, delivers a stellar performance of a smitten disciple.
This must-see movie about a forgiving non-compromising spirit is a dramatization of Professor Wells’ claim that fully engaging Mark’s three life phases prepares one to lead a mature spiritual life.