The same yesterday, today and tomorrow (1)

TODAY, PALM Sunday, Christians celebrate the triumphal entry of Jesus Christ into Jerusalem where He was hailed a King. If Jesus entered our modern Philippines now, what kind of leader would He be? Would He be relevant to our nation’s problems?

Clear vision and mission. Our faith tells us that Jesus Christ is eternal; He is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. Consequently, I said in a speech that He has at least five leadership qualities that are as relevant and compelling today as they were yesterday and as they will be tomorrow. These are, first, Jesus is a leader with a vision and mission. He made it absolutely clear who He was, what His objectives were, and how He intended to accomplish them.

He proclaimed His salvific mission in different ways to different listeners. To His disciples, He spoke loftily, assertively and authoritatively. His mighty sermon on the mount is the greatest teaching of all time and for all time. He leaned heavily in favor of the poor, the sorrowing, the simple-hearted and the peacemakers. He opposed the hypocrite, the arrogant, the proud and the self-righteous. He forgave the repentant and the simple-hearted.

To the non-disciples, to the Jews and the Gentiles, to His critics, He taught through parables. The parables were intended “to enable the listener to discover something for himself.” They awakened faith and made the listener discover the truth without being told directly.

That is why most of His parables ended with questions. “Which of these three, in your opinion, was neighbor to the man who fell in with the robbers?” was the question He asked in the parable of the good Samaritan (Lk 10:36); “Which of them was more grateful to him” in the parable of the forgiven debtors (Lk 7:42); or “What fate do you suppose the owner of the vineyard has in store for them?” in the parable of the tenants (Lk 20:16).

Indeed, Jesus knew who He was, what He was to do and how He was to achieve His mission. He knew He would suffer and die, but He also knew He would be victorious!

Courage and conviction. Second, Jesus was a leader of enormous courage and unbreakable conviction. When He walked the earth 2,000 years ago, there was no freedom of speech, no freedom to dissent. Group conformity—particularly with the religious leaders of the time—was the only measure of truth and virtue. But Jesus did not conform.

He mixed with sinners, tax collectors, a Samaritan woman, a prostitute and an adulteress. He soon acquired a reputation of being “a glutton and a drunkard.” No matter. He did not seek anyone’s approval but avowedly denounced sin, repeatedly called for repentance and boldly proclaimed the kingdom of God, a kingdom which is the opposite of that preached by the Jews and the Romans, a kingdom where the weak is strong and the strong is just and the just is compassionate.

He did not mince words in identifying His opponents and in denouncing their sins. He exclaimed (Mt. 23:25-27):

“Woe to you scribes and Pharisees, you frauds! You cleanse the outside of cup and dish and leave the inside filled with loot and lust! Blind Pharisee! First, cleanse the inside of the cup so that its outside may be clean. Woe to you scribes and Pharisees, you frauds! You are like whitewashed tombs, beautiful to look at on the outside but inside full of filth and dead men’s bones.”

Exemplary servant-leader. Third, Jesus was a servant-leader who led by example. In the Gospel, Jesus told His disciples:

“You know how among the Gentiles those who seem to exercise authority lord it over them; their great ones make their importance felt. It cannot be like that with you. Anyone among you who aspires to greatness must serve the rest; whoever wants to rank first among you must serve the needs of all. The Son of Man has not come to be served but to serve—to give His life in ransom for the many.” (Mk. 10:42-45)

True it is indeed, among the non-disciples, the leaders lorded it over their followers. In our country and in our time, it is no different. Although our leaders are elected by the people and call themselves public servants, the sad fact is that they arrogate unto themselves power and authority over the lives and destiny of our people.

Hence, they allocate unto themselves huge pork barrels, so they could dispense patronage and favors. So people will owe them the building of roads, the repair of public markets, or the construction of water systems. Our leaders make themselves the center of authority such that no business can be opened without their blessings; no employment can be secured without their recommendation; and no wedding or baptism will be complete without them as sponsors. Indeed, our leaders make their importance felt—not by reason of their wisdom or their service—but by the authority and the power they clothe themselves with.

Quite the opposite, Jesus came to serve, not to be served. He gave of Himself freely and fully, not wanting or needing anything for Himself. And more than that, He led by example. To show that He was ready to perform the humblest of service, He washed the feet of His apostles, telling them, “You address me as ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord’ and fittingly enough for that is what I am. But if I, who am Teacher and Lord, have washed your feet, then you, too, must wash each other’s feet. What I did was to give you an example: as I have done for you, so you must do.” (Jn 13:14-16)

To be continued next Sunday.

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