I was introduced to ancient Rome as a young reader. Rosemary Sutcliff (1920-1992) wrote such fine historical fiction that it appeals to young readers and adults alike. A film version of The Eagle of the Ninth was made just last year. And I’m a sucker for a good Roman movie (wherein “good” excludes all of the so-called spaghetti gladiator films made in the fifties and sixties).
As a student of Rome, I find it worth noting today’s date. Even those who know “nothing” about Rome should understand its significance. You don’t need to have studied Latin or the classics to understand the warning “Beware the Ides of March.” The Ides is the fifteenth day of the month. And it was on this day that Julius Caesar was murdered by members of the Roman Senate.
It was left to his adopted son, Caesar Augustus, to transform the Republic into an autocratic Empire. It was this Caesar who ruled Rome at the time of Jesus’ birth, and he bequeathed the title of “Caesar” to his heirs. When Jesus requested that the Pharisees and Herodians “show him the coin for the tax,” we do not know whether Augustus or Caesar Tiberius adorned it. It matters not, since the image of Caesar was tantamount to representing Rome itself.
Jesus taught his disciples to be discerning in the loyalties we offer. We are to be responsible citizens. But we are also required to remember our true citizenship rests in the New Jerusalem.
C.S. Lewis astutely illustrated this truth. He lived during two global conflicts, and served in combat defending his homeland. Yet Lewis recognized the dangers of placing our trust (faith) in even the “noble” things of this world.
A man may have to die for our country: but no man must, in any exclusive sense, live for his country. He who surrenders himself without reservation to the temporal claims of a nation, or a party, or a class is rendering to Caesar that which, of all things, most emphatically belongs to God: himself. (“Learning in War-Time” – a sermon preached in Oxford in 1939).
So, on this day when Julius’ dreams of glory bled out in Rome . . . may you and I find refuge, hope, peace and meaning in the One who bled and died for each of us on Calvary.