Political Temptations


“Do not put the Lord your God to the test” – Matthew 4:7

Politics as a way of life

Politics is a way of life. We cannot really do away with politics. Those who think that Christianity has nothing to do with politics do not really understand what politics or Christianity is all about. Theologically, politics has something to do with our stewardship of power which God bestowed upon us. Power is God’s gift. How we use this divine gift is our politics. Our politics, then, is our own offering to God.

However, politics, like any divine gift, can be misused or abused. It can be used to exploit and dominate other people. It can be utilized to satisfy human greed and selfishness. This has been the kind of politics that characterized human history. Hence, many would normally think of politics as a dirty game. This is probably one of the reasons why some would think that Church people should not be involved in politics. Lest their hands would be stained by the evils that politics spawned. Let the politicians deal with politics, they say.

Politics though could be a blessing to people if and when it is used properly. It is sacred as God’s gift that it should not be left alone to politicians. This reminds me of a mythical story about the creation of our country.

According to the story, when God was about to create the Philippines, an angel of the Lord prayed earnestly to God to create the Philippines as beautiful as it can be: a nation with beautiful people and rich natural resources; no less than a paradise here on earth. Our gracious and loving God agreed to the angel’s prayer, and so He created the Philippines just like that. But then, some of the angels protested. “That’s unfair!” they said. Then, God answered them saying, “Wait, wait until you see what kind of politicians I give to the Philippines!”

Indeed, sound politics can be a blessing to people, but dirty politics can ruin a nation.

Politics is very much part of life. It is one area of our life wherein major decisions are made that would seriously affect our future and destiny as a people and as a nation. Whether we like it or not we are all involved in politics consciously or unconsciously. Even non-involvement in politics is also politics. Hence, the most important question is what kind of politics do we have? How good and responsible are we as stewards of power?

Jesus’ temptation as political

Let’s turn to Matthew 4:1-11 for our reflections. This is about the so-called temptations of Jesus. According to this Biblical, the Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil after his baptism. The English word, tempt or temptation, used in the story does not mean to seduce a person to do evil as commonly understood.

For it is unthinkable that God’s good Spirit should make a person a wrongdoer. The word temptation in the story would mean test or trial which would come to a person whom God calls for a purpose. Such test or trial is not meant to seduce us to commit sin, but rather it is meant to enable us to conquer sin. It is not meant to weaken us, but rather it is meant to make us stronger and finer, and purer.

Moreover, we must not think of this experience of Jesus as an outward experience. Rather, we must think of it as a struggle that went on in his heart and mind and soul. This is supported by the fact that there is no possible mountain from which all the kingdoms of this world can be seen. This is more of an inner struggle, which would clearly show to us that it is through our inmost thoughts and desires that temptation comes.

Another important thing that stands out from this story is the fact that the temptations which came to Jesus are temptations which could only come to a person who knows that he has power in his hands and that there are amazing things he could do with such power. In other words, Jesus’ temptations are political temptations.

Time and again, we are tempted through the gifts we possess. For instance, a person who is gifted with the power of words would be tempted to use his command of words to produce excuses to justify his own conduct. Or, a person with great gifts of mind or intellect would be tempted to manipulate people, and make himself the master and not the servant of people. Indeed, it is the grim reality of temptation that it is where we are most powerful that we are most tempted.

As Jesus started his ministry, he was tempted to follow the various kinds of politics that were prevailing at the time. But he was able to overcome all the temptations. Like Jesus, we may also be tempted to follow the various political options existing in our society today, especially as we face the forthcoming May elections. But like Jesus, may we also overcome all the temptations.

Patronage politics

For our purposes, there are several lessons that we could learn from Jesus’ temptation experience. First of all, the story of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness is saying to us that we should not yield to the temptation to “turn stones into bread”.

This is the temptation of patronage politics. Political patronage is the practice of giving favor to people so that they would vote for you during election time. Election is seen as an investment for which a politician must get something in return when elected.

Perhaps, this is one of the things that would make politics a dirty game.

Jesus received God’s Spirit to fulfill His saving act in the world. And he knew for sure that he had with him this power. At that moment in the wilderness, Jesus was making a choice on what strategy to use to fulfill his mission of winning people for God’s Kingdom. How would he turn the vision of God’s Kingdom into a reality? What kind of politics would he follow?

One sure way to persuade people to follow him was to give them bread, to give them material things. Did not history justify that? For instance, had not God given manna in the wilderness? If Jesus had decided to give people bread, he could have produced enough justifications for it. As a matter of fact, some of the early Protestant missionaries in our country followed this approach by distributing relief goods to prospective converts. Interestingly, even Korean missionaries in the Philippines today are also using this approach to mission.

But to give people bread would have been a serious mistake. It would have been to persuade people to follow Jesus for the sake of what they could get out of it Jesus Christ our Lord called people to a life of giving, and not a life of getting. To bribe people with material things would have been ultimately to defeat Jesus’ own purpose. Besides, it would have been to remove the symptoms without dealing with the disease itself.

True, people are hungry, especially nowadays, despite reports of a growing economy. But the question is: why are people hungry? Is it because of their indolence, like what our former colonizers are said about us? Or, is it because there are some who selfishly possess too much, and greedily desire to have even more, while others possess too little?

The real way to cure poverty and hunger in this world is to remove the causes, which are deeply rooted in people’s hearts and minds, and are concretely expressed in their systems and structures of social relationships. Besides, there is that hunger of the human heart, like the hunger for justice and righteousness, the hunger for love and peace, which material things can never satisfy.

And so, Jesus answered the Tempter, “Man cannot live on bread alone, but needs every word that God speaks” (cf. Dt. 8:3). For the word of God is a word of justice, of mercy and love.

Sensational politics

Moreover, the story of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness is also saying to us that we should not yield to the temptation of creating sensations to attract people and get their support. This is sensational politics. It is the way of creating sensations, like using film stars or actors and actresses or even religion, to attract people, and get their support for election purposes. Thus, people today are saying that in order to win an election, a politician should have not only the traditional three G’s (guns, goons, and gold), but five G’s (guns, goons, gold, glitter, and God)! No wonder actors and actressand religious leaders are now joining partisan politics and running for electoral offices.

In the Temptation story, Jesus was again tempted from another angle. In vision, the Tempter took Jesus to the pinnacle of the Temple. The Temple was built on top of Mt. Zion. And there was one corner of the Temple building at which the Solomon’s Porch and the Royal Porch met. At that corner, there was a sheer drop of about four hundred and fifty feet into the Valley of Kedron down below.

Now, why should not Jesus stand on that pinnacle and leap down below, like Superman, and perhaps land unharmed in the valley beneath? Surely, that would startle people into following him! As a matte r of fact, this was the strategy promised by those who claimed to be messiahs in those days. For instance, the famous Egyptian Pretender recorded in the Book of Acts (21:38) had promised that with a word he would lay flat the walls of Jerusalem. Simon Magus had promised to fly through the air, and, of course, he died in his attempt to do so.

All these seem to be no different from today’s Charismatic Phenomenon, the El Shaddai Phenomenon, the Agoo Phenomenon, and many others. They seem to be no different to the songs and dances, actions and telenovelas of actors and actresses who mesmerize people and lull them into a dreamland. Many idolize actors and actresses, because of people’s inability to distinguish between illusions and reality.

Thousands upon thousands of people are being attracted to religious groups and movements that promise instant healing, instant riches; oh yes, instant salvation from this world of pain and suffering!

Why should Jesus not follow this strategy? He would have been an instant celebrity. He could have attracted the rich, the famous, and the mighty in the City of Jerusalem, and not merely the blind, the lame, the poor and insignificant people of Galilee. Unlike the Pretenders of his day, Jesus had the power to fulfill his promise.

But why, why should Jesus not follow the way of sensationalism? Jesus knew for sure that a person who seeks to attract people to him by providing them with sensations has adopted a strategy in which there is no future. The reason is simple. To retain his power to attract people, he must produce ever greater and greater sensations. For this year’s sensation may be next year’s commonplace. A Gospel founded on sensationalism is foredoomed to failure. People would come to know the truth and realize that there is more to life than mere sensationalism.

Besides, that is not the way to use God’s gift of power. “You must not put the Lord your God to the test” (Dt. 6:16), said Jesus. For sure, our God expects us to take risks in life in order to be faithful to him, but God does not expect us to take risks in order to enhance our own prestige. The very faith which is dependent on sensationalism, on signs and wonders, on “miracles”, is not really faith; rather it is actually doubt looking for proof in the wrong place. God’s rescuing, healing, and redeeming power is not something to be played with, to be experimented with; but rather it is something to be quietly trusted in our everyday life.

Jesus our Lord refused to follow the way of sensationalism in fulfilling his mission, because he knew for sure that it was the way to failure. And to long for sensations, for signs and wonders, for “miracles” is not really to trust, but to distrust the Almighty God.

Compromise politics

Furthermore, the story of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness is also saying to us that we should not yield to the temptation to compromise our values and principles in life just to win people’s votes. This is compromise politics. Apparently, this is the kind of politics prevailing in our country today. Thus, we have countless cases of party-switching, vote-buying, ballot-snatching, election-padding or even killing. All the noble and sublime values of honesty and integrity, of truth and justice are all compromised for the sake of winning an election.

In the Temptation story, Jesus was again tempted in another way. It was the world that Jesus came to serve and to save, and into his mind there came the picture of the world. The voice of the Tempter said, “Fall down and worship me, and I will give you all the kingdoms of this world” (v.9). The Tempter was in fact saying, “Follow the ways of the world! Do what the rulers of this world have been doing! They conquer nations and kingdoms by force or by manipulations, and lord it over them!”

This is the temptation of following the ways of the world, instead of presenting uncompromisingly God’s demands to the world. It is the temptation to change the world by becoming like the world. This has been a persistent temptation in the history of the church. The church in the Middle Ages, for instance, had scandalously yielded to this temptation.

But Jesus answered, “You shall worship the Lord your God, and him alone you will serve” (cf. Dt. 6:13). This is the same faith affirmed by our mothers and fathers in the faith in their attempts to reform the church in the Middle Ages. Jesus our Lord knew for sure that we can never defeat evil by compromising with evil. Our world needs a new way of life, a new kind of relationship, a new politics based on God’s justice and righteousness.

Servant politics

And so finally, the story of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness is also saying to us that we should worship the Lord our God and He alone we shall serve. This is servant politics. Servant politics happens when we identify ourselves with the genuine hopes and aspirations of the people and serve them truly and wholeheartedly. In servant politics, we take the genuine interests of the people as our own, and not to make our own vested interests as the people’s interests. By serving the people, especially those at the bottom of society, we are offering our concrete service to God Himself. To serve God is to serve the people.

And so, Jesus made up his mind. He decided that in fulfilling his mission, he must never bribe people into following the way of God’s Kingdom; he decided that the strategy of sensationalism is not for him; he decided that there is no compromise in the message he proclaims and in the faith he demands. He decided “to worship God and Him alone (he) will serve.”

Inevitably, such decision would also mean his crucifixion. Following the way of the cross, however, which is the way of servant politics, would also mean the final victory of his mission to save his own people. It is only by following his way of servant politics that the people may find new life, new hope and a new future.

As we face the forthcoming electoral exercise, we may also be tempted in ways Jesus Christ himself was tempted in the wilderness. But it is our hope and prayer that we have already made up our mind, so that when such temptations come, we can also affirm the faith, and honestly say like Jesus Christ our Lord: “Worship the Lord our God,  and him alone (you) will serve.# nordis.net



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