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Homily for Friday of the 2nd Week of Advent, 10 December 2021, Mt 11:16-19

In my younger years in the seminary, we used to make a joke about the Filipino expression “Saan ako lalagay?” You know, when you are faced with that kind of situation where, no matter what you say or do, you will not be able to please everybody. We jokingly invented the English expression WHERE DO I PUT? “You do this, they say something; you do that, they also say something. Where do I put?” (Sa Tagalog, gawin mo ito may masasabi sila, gawin mo iyon may masasabi pa rin sila. Saan ka ba naman lalagay?) Of course the better way of putting it in English should be, “Where do I position myself?”

In today’s Gospel, Jesus is using an analogy to describe the people of his generation. How easily they could be swayed by public opinion or public expectation. How leaders tended to dance to the popular tune, just to keep themselves in power.

Remember Pontius Pilate? He had interrogated Jesus and was convinced that he had had committed no crime. And yet, he washed his hands and gave in to political pressure to have Jesus crucified when the anti-Jesus group of Sadducees succeeded in asking to free the thief Barabbas instead. What can you do when the thief is more popular than the holy Rabbi from Nazareth? I cannot recall who it was that said, “the crowd chose Barabbas, not because they loved him but because they hated the truth.” I fully agree with him.

Here’s how John describes what happened in that trial: John 19:12 “Pilate tried to release Jesus; but the Jews cried out, ‘If you release him, you are not serving in the interest of the emperor. This man proclaims himself as king, so he should be regarded as an enemy of the state.” And so he gave in to political pressure.

When politics deteriorates into a matter of power-grabbing and powerplay, the leaders can be easily swayed by public opinion. They will tend to dance to the popular tune and forget totally about the principles of genuine governance and the common good. Instead of the people being educated by the political process, they are patronized and kept ignorant, especially when leaders are more concerned about keeping themselves in power, than being of service to the common good. The challenge is always greater on people who try to make a principled stand and are determined to positively transform politics than be negatively transformed by it.

Listening to the Gospel today makes me feel as if Jesus was describing the current state of Philippine politics. The choice seems to be more about choosing winnable candidates than about electing truly qualified candidates. Our country will go down the drain the moment our choice of leaders is determined only by survey results.

If we do not want that to happen, then we have to make the most of the next few months to allow the preparation for election to be a genuinely educational experience for Filipinos. There is hope when people go out of their way to understand issues, to know history, to know the background and track record of candidates. There is hope when people no longer vote according to the amount of money that they can get from candidates. There is hope when it is the people themselves who voluntarily spend from their own resources to support the electoral bid of certain candidates because they truly are convinced in what they stand for. There is hope when our people become more critical, when use their discernment, when they truly participate in the electoral process, when they go out of their way to persuade others, motivated only by concern for the common good and a better kind of government for their children and their grandchildren.

Jesus was never the type who allowed himself to be easily bothered or swayed by popular expectation or public opinion. He knew well that there are people who will look at a doughnut and see nothing but the hole in the middle. Or they will look at a half full glass and see it only as half empty. He says, “Wisdom is vindicated by her works.” Yes, never by empty talk.

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