Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Nobel Peace Prize-winning Anglican cleric, has died at the age of 90. His work for civil and human rights made him a revered leader during the struggle to end apartheid in his native South Africa.
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa described Archbishop Tutu as “a man of extraordinary intellect, integrity and invincibility against the forces of apartheid … tender and vulnerable in his compassion for those who had suffered oppression, injustice and violence under apartheid, and oppressed and downtrodden people around the world.”
Apartheid, South Africa’s official policy of racial segregation, ended in the early ‘90s. Nelson Mandela became president of the country and Archbishop Tutu was named chair of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission. In 2012, he was recognized for his “lifelong commitment to speaking truth to power.” The following year, he received the Templeton Prize for his “work in advancing spiritual principles such as love and forgiveness.”
In today’s readings from the Prophet Isaiah, we hear the Lord say, “Comfort, give comfort to my people.” Certainly, Archbishop Tutu did this. The current archbishop of Cape Town described Archbishop Tutu’s legacy as moral strength, moral courage and clarity, saying, “He cried because he felt the people’s pain. And he cackled with delight when he shared their joy.” The current archbishop of Canterbury has described him as “a prophet and a priest, a man of words and action.”
The person or group of people addressed in Second Isaiah is often referred to as the Suffering Servant and assumed to be the Messiah. But perhaps there is more to it than that.
In 2011, Episcopal Priest Robert V. Taylor wrote, “Desmond Tutu had no reason to act as he did other than his profound sense of our shared humanity in working for a world in which justice and the wellbeing of all is an expression of his ethical leadership of compassion.” Isn’t this what it means to be God’s servant? This is what Archbishop Desmond Tutu dedicated his life to. Are we not called to do the same?
Van Benthem is a longtime pastoral minister in the diocese.