OPINION | The Filipino Politician and the Pharisee: A Lenten Reflection

by F. Bustamante

Jesus's public ministry began with his baptism by John and ended after the Last Supper. Throughout his ministry, Jesus preached the truth. He did this in a way that people understood. He told stories and parables, performed miracles and lived his life as an example for others. It was not often that Jesus lost his cool, but the Bible tells us of times when he did. (He was human, after all.) When he saw vendors and money changers in the Temple taking advantage of people and turning a house of prayer into a marketplace, he got very angry and tipped over tables, scattered coins and merchandise and drove everyone out.

Perhaps no group of people earned Jesus's anger the most than the Pharisees. He preached passionately about their ways, condemning Pharisees as hypocrites, liars and show-offs who put heavy burdens on people and made rules that they themselves did not follow. He called them leaders who cannot lead because they themselves are blind.

Jesus said this of the Pharisees: "They did not enter the Kingdom of Heaven, and neither did they let others." There is no greater condemnation than being denied entry into the Kingdom of God for the manner of one's life and how it impacted others. Jesus saw the Pharisees as bad leaders who led themselves and others astray.

Matthew 23 talks about Jesus's condemnation of the Pharisees in the Bible excerpt below:

[Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples: "The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. So you must be careful to do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach. They tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them. Everything they do is done for people to see."]

There are parallels between the Pharisees and politicians in the Philippines. There are certainly more than enough hypocrisy in the country to go around, as people who have the power to do good and raise people up choose to go the other way, while presenting themselves as honest and clean. I wonder what Jesus would say about them, and about those who follow blindly in their wake. Or close their eyes and ears to their wrongs, and ignore the cries of the poor.

As we head into the holiest days of Lent, let us reflect on Matthew 23 and the meaning of Jesus' words. Let us reconcile the truths of our lives with the truth of Jesus Christ.