Photo-op Statesmen: “The Practice of Public & Private Virtue”
By Richard Allen – July 18, 2022
It seems that in our modern age, very few movies can spin a great “yarn,” that is – telling a fictional story that’s believable – while keeping our interest. Peter Shaffer’s Amadeus was such a movie. It won Best Picture in 1985 and has been voted the top Best Picture winner of the 1980’s. What draws my attention for this week’s blog is the character played by F. Murray Abrams, Antonio Salieri, the Austrian court composer who some actually believe, killed Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. This is no recent myth; it was actually written into a play by Russian writer named Pushkin within six years of Mozart’s death in 1791. While we may never know the actual truth, what we do know is that Antonio Salieri did have a physical and mentalbreakdown after Mozart’s death – along with rumors of his intense jealousy and hatred for the gifted young composer. The rumor that Salieri was responsible for Mozart’s death by poisoning has been with us for 200+ years.
In the movie Amadeus, F. Murray Abrams delivers an Academy Award performance as the older and less talented composer, Antonio Salieri – giving confession to a young priest of his complicity in the death of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. But what I remember most was the startling scene at the end of the movie where Salieri (pictured above) is being wheeled through the insane asylum he’s been confined to. While riding through the halls, Salieri “absolves all of the other mental patients of their mediocrity.” In the movie, Salieri’s character, realizing that he was an unmemorable composer compared to Mozart, proclaims that he is the “patron saint of mediocrity.” Ironically, as he acknowledges his unworthiness to the broken and dysfunctional souls in the asylum, they pay little or no attention to him. This whole bizarre scene reminds me that like Salieri, fallen men and women are all legends in their own minds. When we seek the approval and esteem of other broken people around us, we show that we’re no better than our fellow inmates in the asylum. So, right here I’d like to quote our Lord’s most famous sermon, “The Sermon on the Mount:”
“Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (Matthew 6:1-4).
This one scene, showing Antonio Salieri acknowledging his peers in the asylum, is a vivid picture of exactly how Jesus warned his followers not to be in His Sermon on the Mount: “When you stop to take that photo-op and bask in the approval of fallen men, you’re making yourself to be someone you are not.” We’re broken, needy people looking for love and acknowledgement. In the end, this is just as empty as the pretend praise Salieri received from the other inmates in his mental asylum. And truth be told, this praise has no lasting value. The only reward that will stand the test of time is when we hear the very voice of God speak to us as it is recorded in Matthew 25:23, the Parable of the Talents:
“Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.”
There is no accolade that will ever mean as much as these words, or bring with it the true riches from Our Father who is in Heaven. But we can’t help but notice the “photo-op posturing” that has always been the way with fallen men. Since the fall of Adam and Eve in the garden, fallen humanity has done exactly what Jesus warned us about in His Sermon on the Mount. We’ve sought the acclaim, praise, power, honors and adoration of other fallen people. The devil himself knew how strong the desires of the flesh are. The Apostle John refers to them as “the boastful pride of life.” Pride was Lucifer’s, the beautiful one’s downfall as well. While he tempts Christ with the accolades of this world, we actually see that the devil himself is looking to be honored and worshipped. This is why he attempted to use fame, power and worldly acclaim to tempt our Lord during His 40 days of testing in Luke chapter four:
“And the devil took him up and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time, and said to him, ‘To you I will give all this authority and their glory, for it has been delivered to me, and I give it to whom I will. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours’ ” (Luke 4:5-7).
The difference between Antonio Salieri and our modern day politicians is that Salieri was painfully honest with himself about who he was, and how his life’s accomplishments were actually perceived. The “photo-op statesmen” and “stateswomen” of today are unabashed and unashamed in their own self-deception – deceived by their own staged accomplishments and imagined sense of self-importance. Listening to other fallen men and women heap praise on us, is tantamount to receiving the adoration of fellow inmates in our own Asylum. Please be aware that God is not deceived, nor does He get caught up in the daily spin machine of talking heads in our fawning and accusatory media. Real believers in Jesus Christ have been humbled by God’s Spirit through the New Birth and Genuine Repentance. The Apostle Paul reminds us:
“For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God (1 Corinthians 1:26-29).
Isaiah the prophet goes even further – calling all of our so-called earthly accomplishments “filthy rags,” (Isaiah 64:6). You can’t get more real than this. As believers, we are humbled not only by our Sin, but Even by our Acts of Righteousness! We can never be saved by our own obedience or works of righteousness – but only by the righteousness of another, namely, Jesus Christ whose righteousness is credited (imputed) to our account.
When you see any celebrity (political or religious) basking in his or her own “lime-light,” accepting the praise of men, just remember what happened to Herod Antipas, the so-called King of Israel, who worked with Rome and the corrupt Jewish clergy to crucify our Lord Jesus. He was also someone who was concerned with photo-ops and being noticed by men:
“Now Herod was angry with the people of Tyre and Sidon, and they came to him with one accord, and having persuaded Blastus, the king's chamberlain, they asked for peace, because their country depended on the king's country for food. On an appointed day Herod put on his royal robes, took his seat upon the throne, and delivered an oration to them. And the people were shouting, ‘This is the voice of a god, and not of a man!’ Immediately an angel of the Lord struck him down, because he did not give God the glory, and he was eaten by worms and breathed his last” (Acts 12:20-23).
Herod Antipas’ demise should be a warning to all the self-important politicians and religious leaders who seek to receive the glory from men. They may bask in the fawning light of those who spend their time “sucking-up-to-power” for their daily bread, but only for a brief moment, as ruin awaits them all for not giving the glory to God. Failure to see the hand of God and His provision in your supposed earthly successes is a folly that few recover from – and then only by God’s grace. And when politicians are generous with other people’s money through the government redistribution they control, they shouldn’t act like they are so benevolent and caring. Most of us know that it’s just for show.
Let me close with an admonition from the prophet Samuel. One that many of our political and religious leaders would do well to heed. In the context, Samuel the Prophet had been sent to the house of Jessie to anoint one of his eight sons as the next King of Israel, a King to take the prideful Saul’s place. One by one they all passed by, God rejecting the tallest, most handsome and gifted. Here’s what we learn from Samuel:
“When they came, he looked on Eliab (Jesse’s son) and thought, ‘Surely the Lord's anointed is before him.’ But the Lord said to Samuel, ‘Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.’ Then Jesse called Abinadab and made him pass before Samuel. And he said, ‘Neither has the Lord chosen this one.’ Then Jesse made Shammah pass by. And he said, ‘Neither has the Lord chosen this one.’ And Jesse made seven of his sons pass before Samuel. And Samuel said to Jesse, ‘The Lord has not chosen these.’ Then Samuel said to Jesse, ‘Are all your sons here?’ And he said, ‘There remains yet the youngest, but behold, he is keeping the sheep.’ And Samuel said to Jesse, ‘Send and get him, for we will not sit down till he comes here' ” (1 Samuel 16:6-11).
So the next time you see your favorite politician or preacher with his capped teeth and $10,000 suit, reading words from a Teleprompter that have been “poll-tested” by speech writers – all crafted to make him or her sound smart, gifted and caring, please take the time to examine their lives and how they really live and treat others. A prideful Salieri, prating to other inmates in the asylum, is not a Statesman or Leader. That honor goes to our real Sovereign, the King of Kings Jesus Christ alone!