During my undergraduate years at the University of Texas, I discovered I was good at Latin. Before long, I was informally majoring in Classics and especially interested in Roman History. I was a shy, passive sort; and studying the aggressive Romans probably allowed me to compensate for my fears. I could take a vicarious satisfaction in Roman military prowess and the Roman tenacity that turned defeat into victory. I could identify with Julius Caesar even when he massacred and enslaved his enemies. Those barbaric Gauls got what they deserved!
Well, I’ve changed. Last night I watched a Netflix episode about Julius Caesar and found myself totally turned off by Caesar’s relentless ambition. It was typical of the Roman upper class to find the meaning of life in power and glory. These days I’m almost nauseated by that kind of ambition—although I detect a trace of it in myself.
I can’t help reflecting that, while Augustus was laying the foundations of the Roman Empire, a humble carpenter in the Roman province of Judaea had a son whom he named Yeshua. This boy grew into our Jesus and lived the lowest of low lives according to the Roman hierarchy of values. He travelled the dusty roads of Judaea, often in filthy rags, followed by half-starved peasants nursing the forlorn hope of throwing off the Roman yoke and seeing the establishment of a miraculous Kingdom of God on Earth. And this Yeshua managed to get himself crucified like a common criminal or miscreant slave.
Now, in my old age, I’ve thrown off my personal allegiance to the Caesars. In my own imperfect way, I follow the carpenter’s son and see his Kingdom of God as both a present and future reality. Of course, there are other ways to God, and I certainly don’t disparage different spiritual paths. The important thing is to be travelling, journeying, seeking your own spiritual Jerusalem.
~ Richard Russell
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