"'Beware the Ides of March'"
Throughout the year, the Southern New England Conference of the United Church of Christ reproduces the Daily Lectionary for use by churches. These are the suggested readings for March 15th: Psalm 81; Jeremiah 2:4-13; John 7:14-31, 37-39. I would encourage you to read these short selections as part of your Lenten practice.
Yesterday was Pi-Day and today is the Ides of March. It was on this day in 44 BCE that Julius Caesar was assassinated in Rome. In Shakespeare’s play Julius Caesar, a soothsayer warns the Roman dictator, “‘Beware the Ides of March.’” Caesar responds saying of the soothsayer, “‘He is a dreamer; let us leave him: pass.’” Now Caesar is no saint. He was assassinated in an attempt to preserve the Republic and its little semblance of democracy from his increasingly dictatorial rule. They succeeded in killing Julius Caesar, but they also succeeded in instigating a civil war that ended the Republic. The civil war concluded with the defeat of the assassins and the ascension of Julius Caesar’s adopted son who would assume the brand-new title of Emperor under the name of Augustus Caesar.
This Augustus would take on titles such as a “son of god” and “saviour.” He reigned from 31BCE to 14CE. He was Roman Emperor when Jesus was born as one of his subjects in the defeated lands of Palestine. Near the village of Nazareth where Jesus grew up was a Roman city named Sepphoris. It is quite possible that tradesmen from Nazareth would have been employed by the more affluent citizens of Sepphoris. It is completely conjecture, but it is possible that Jesus the carpenter may have worked for these Romans and been exposed to their worldview of power and subjugation.
The murder of Julius Caesar in 44 BCE may well have had an influence on the life of Jesus of Nazareth in unforeseen ways decades later, and also upon the believers in Jesus of Nazareth who so adroitly transferred the titles used to honour Augustus to ones applied to Jesus. Augustus lives in history books. Jesus lives among us. The great Roman Empire and its deified rulers are a memory. Jesus is Son of God and Saviour to over a billion people some 2,000 years later and counting.
The Roman Empire must have seemed invincible when Jesus spoke in today’s Gospel from within the Jerusalem Temple. Above its courtyard stood Fortress Antonia and a garrison of Roman soldiers. The Romans watched the activity within the courtyard closely, keeping guard against any disturbance, any potential threat to their rule. And below them in the Temple, Jesus was doing just that. His teachings and His miracles were causing the people to wonder, “‘Can it be that the authorities really know that this is the Messiah?’” Messiah is the Jewish Saviour, the one who will free them from their enemies and reestablish the nation of Israel. Messiah is a direct threat to Rome and to those soldiers up above watching from Fortress Antonia.
What chance did this Nazareth carpenter of no recognizable learning (cf. John 7:15) and of no ancestral pedigree (cf. John 7:27) have against the rulers of the civilized world? It would have been preposterous to dream that this Saviour and Son of God could replace Augustus as saviour and son of god. People listening to Jesus and doubting His words in the Temple that day may have been 100% practical, but like Julius Caesar discounting the words of the soothsayer, practical does not always define reality. I hope this may inspire us as we are forced to look upon so many powerful forces that are still arrayed against the hope Jesus offers.
The fact that in 2023 we continue to search during Lent for a deeper appreciation of this Jesus speaks to the presence of God in our faith. Jesus should be a forgotten name after two millennia. For it to be otherwise, for us to be engaging in our Lenten disciplines, speaks to the power of God that we share in as we call Jesus Saviour and Son of God. We right now are evidence of the Spirit of God at work among us.
If you’d like, here is the link to the Southern New England Conference’s daily reading schedule: www.sneucc.org/lectionary.
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