1 John 2:18-28
Beware the Ides of March
The quote above is not scriptural. I simply chose to use it simply because it is (at least when I began writing) the ides of march. Tuesday was also primarily election day in Ohio. So the reading from Judges fits right in with the theme of the day. But a little background is necessary for the passage to be understood.
The book of Judges raises the issue of the connection between religion and politics. It tells of the time after the death of Joshua when the Israelites were led by judges and not by kings.
Following the death of Gideon, Abimelech, son of Gideon, wanted to become king. Gideon had many wives who gave birth to a total of 70 sons. Abimelech, however, was the son of Gideon’s concubine, therefore not of the same status of the 70. So in his mind he had reason to be jealous.
The envy drives him to kill his brothers, except for the youngest, Jotham, who hid and survived. It is Jotham who proclaimed the parable that we read in Judges 9:7-15.
In the parable, the olive tree, the fig tree and the vine rejected the offer of kingship. They were content to grow where God had planted them and to produce the kind of fruit God desired. The implication here is that these righteous trees refused to tear their roots from the soil and soar above the other trees in a presumptuous act of self-promotion. It was Gideon who had been made the offer of kingship [Judges 8:22] and refused because he believed that God was the only king who should rule over the people.
The bramble represented Abimelech, who craved power and prestige. Ironically, the name Abimelech in Hebrew means “my father is king.” But his kingship was one of corruption and oppression. Abimelech met a horrible death as a result.
The account of Abimelech argues that the only thing political leaders could be trusted to do was to pursue power and self-interest. Psychoanalysts claim that the need for prestige and power rises out of an absence of self-esteem. People of faith affirm that it is that emptiness which leads us into the way of sin. We all have the capacity for actions we deeply regret unless we remain faithful to God’s guidance.
Before one can become a good leader, one must be a good follower. Our positive self-image flows from the knowledge that we are loved by God and are special in God’s sight. That understanding, which consequently shapes our theology, influences how we live out our relationships with others.