What is it all about, we may ask. For those true friends of Jesus of Nazareth who believe that faith is a firm conviction that goodness, truth and practical action for social justice will eventually overcome evil, Easter is a time to reaffirm that belief by recalling the words and actions of Jesus himself. Living out that faith to convert and change society as Jesus tried to do is a great challenge in what some call a pseudo-Christian society.
The true followers and friends of Jesus of Nazareth are not many but they are the dedicated human rights workers, the dedicated people serving the poor, and the few good bishops and clergy and religious sisters committed to social justice and defending the oppressed. So many end up like Jesus himself- falsely accused, jailed, tortured and executed by the corrupt authorities.
The true followers live out daily the teaching and mission of Jesus of Nazareth and make him present in their lives and in society through every act of love for their neighbors. That is Easter, suffering as he did but making him alive, resurrected in their action, bringing goodness to overcome evil. Church ceremonies, rites and rituals are incomprehensible and detached from real life today and the hardship of the people so the people resort to their own irreverent displays of historical events in the life and death of Jesus of Nazareth. The real role of Church leaders is not to merely preside over ceremonies but to be imitators of Him and lead, encourage and promote by words and a commitment to social justice and thus implement his mission.
That mission is to unite good people to work as one nation based on Gospel values for the common good, to bring sight to those blind to the suffering of the poor, inspire leaders to work for spiritual transformation of the nation mired in injustice and exploitation. To bring justice and freedom from exploitation and poverty of more than 16 million Filipinos that live in sub-human poverty today. To challenge as Jesus did the elite dynastic families, a few thousand people, that live in luxury and own more than 46 percent of the national wealth.
The life and teaching of Jesus of Nazareth, a humble son of a carpenter, but wise with extraordinary insight and vision, encouraged everyone to believe that goodness and love of neighbor will overcome selfishness and evil exploitation. This great teacher, a charismatic leader who brought the truth of human rights, dignity and equality, into the world to transform it, was executed for being a man of action, doing good for the poor and the down-trodden. He was an outcast by the religious leaders, a threat to the authorities, a target of death threats and assassination plots, like human rights workers and community leaders, the true committed Christians today.
For almost two years he was the kindly, generous, healing prophet that brought into the world immense compassion, healing, forgiveness and solidarity with the poor. He took on the mission of the Prophet Isaiah to bring good news to the poor that they were loved by God above all others. He taught that God through his followers would free them from poverty and oppression. He would enlighten those blind to the truth, that God is a God of love and freedom. Jesus would set free all the oppressed and that a great change was coming to the world where the poor would be saved from misery and injustice. (Luke 4:16-20)
The elite, the elders, the chief priests and Pharisees, did not accept that message and rejected him and his mission. They would not or could not change. Their wealth and power was secured by their harsh system. He was feeling the rejection of his message by the religious and political leaders at that time and he challenged and criticized them. They became angry and wanted to kill him. Jesus and his disciples gave them an excuse to outlaw him and put a price on his head. After two years of trying to persuade them to accept the message of peace and justice, Jesus decided to challenge them openly with social action.
He knew the corrupt practices of the chief priests and rich elders. They owned the supply of sacrificial animals and sold them to worshipers through vendors in the market. The market was within the temple grounds. Although sacrilegious, the priests allowed the selling of their animals there and became super rich. They allowed money changers, for a high fee, to set up stalls. They had power and taught the people that to gain blessings from God, they had to buy an animal or even a dove, have it offered in the temple by the priest and slaughtered for a fee. The meat was given to the owner to cook for the Passover feast. It was a roaring business.
Jesus challenged this set up, called it a sacrilege and with his twelve and other followers, set out to close it down. He made a whip out of rope and they charged in swinging ropes and lashing out. Everybody scattered. Jesus kicked over the tables of the money changers and drove out the animals and traders. It was a victory. They had restored the sacred purpose of the temple. After that, they were hated by the elite and the priests for the economic disruption to their business and exposure of their corruption. Jesus and his followers left the city as fugitives and wandered Palestine teaching and doing good.
There was an opposition group in Palestine that was also against the Temple authorities because the chief priest and elders compromised with the occupying Romans. The opposition wanted a charismatic, popular leader to take over power in Jerusalem. They wanted Jesus to be their Messiah, to be King of the Jews. Four thousand of them met in the desert to proclaim him king. He refused and left the meeting and told his disciple to leave also. He wanted no part in a violent uprising.
The opposition used him, declaring him Messiah. His disciples, inspired by the temple action, believed he was the messiah, the one to free Israel from the Romans and the ruling elites in the temple. Jesus tried to dissuade them. They even argued who among them would be his ministers when he was crowned king after the revolution. The word spread he was the messiah, a descendant of King David, to be King of the Jews. Jesus and his followers believed they would be safe in Jerusalem with people supporting and proclaiming Jesus to be the messiah although Jesus did not make such a claim. They went to Jerusalem for the Passover feast and he was proclaimed Messiah as he entered the gates of the city.
There, confrontations with the Pharisees arose in the temple again and the Jewish authorities saw their chance and arrested him, put him on trial and condemned him to death on the false blasphemy charge. They got Pilate, the Roman procurator, to believe that Jesus was a rebel, that he was claiming to be King of the Jews. That was sedition and Pilate ordered him to be executed by cruel crucifixion. That was the false charge they hung him for on the cross. That was not the end of it. Jesus was resurrected, raised from death and walks with us in spirit today. We are expected to carry on his mission.