Listen to Lucy’s ‘Thought for the Day’ on BBC Radio 4 which was broadcast on Tuesday 15 March 2022, in which she reflects on the nature of leadership and the abuse of power.
BBC Radio 4’s Religion & Spirituality podcast providing reflections from a faith perspective on issues and people in the news.
Act 1 Scene 2: a public place. All powerful Julius Caesar meets a crowd. A fortune teller calls out Beware the Ides of March. Caesar has him brought out. He repeats his warning but is dismissed as a dreamer. On this day – the Ides of March – in 44 BC, Caesar was assassinated.
Luke’s Gospel, Chapter 8: a public place. The charismatic preacher Jesus meets a crowd. A woman pushes through and touches the hem of his robe. The debilitating condition that has kept her isolated and poverty stricken for 12 years is relieved. Jesus has her brought out. She tells him what she has done and he tells her ‘your faith has made you well’.
The political power of Caesar and the divine power of God. Stories told to teach us that these powers are held and shared in fundamentally different ways.
Today urgent practical questions are being asked about international political checks on the power of a state. But there are deeper reflections appropriate today on the exercise and abuse of power itself. Christianity offers a distinction: to render to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s, confronting any leader who – in the exercise of their political power -tries to colonise what in the Scriptures belongs to God: the heart, mind, soul and strength of the people. Such a dictator seeks not just to take political decisions for the society they govern but to hold the power of life and death over people at their most vulnerable: over women in labour in a maternity hospital in Mariupol, for example.
In response to this horror, the Christian conviction is that God suffers. In Christ, divine power found expression in a human life lived undefended but ultimately undefeated.
Yesterday 65 eminent Christian orthodox theologians published a declaration that made exactly this point: no political leader should attempt to accrue to him or herself powers they have no right to exercise. The theologians “rebuke all forms of government that deify the state, and leaders whether known by the title Caesar, Emperor, Tsar or President.” Words can be cheap, giving a falsely reassuring sense that something has been done. But words matter too: ‘My kingdom is not of this world’ said Christ when faced with the politician’s challenge. On the Ides of March, it’s as well to listen to the words not only of Scripture but of the playwright …
Act 3 Scene 1: Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown.