I was thinking about my sabbatical summer in Europe again today. We saw so many beautiful things that summer: fantastic architecture, glorious artwork, bountiful flowers. It seemed everywhere we looked there were interesting and unusual things to explore with our eyes and ears. But not everything was beautiful. I was thinking about one of those not beautiful things this morning… the Colosseum in Rome. I had been intrigued by the Colosseum for years but knew little about it. I knew it was an amazing structure and the gladiators fought there. So I was interested to learn more.
We went to the Colosseum with a fantastic tour guide who helped us understand all that went there. The first thing I learned as we looked at the exterior of the building was that it was built by Jewish slaves. After the Jewish Roman war that resulted in the destruction of Jerusalem, the leveling of the Temple and the dispersion of Jewish people, Rome took many of Jewish people as slaves, marched them back to Rome, and paraded them through the city in triumph. These were the Jewish slaves who were forced to build the Colosseum.
Our guide brought us on the main floor of the Colosseum through the gate entered by those destined to die in the Colosseum. There our guide showed us the two underground levels beneath the floor where the animals, prisoners and gladiators were kept until it was there turn to come on to the floor. She explained that a day at the Colosseum included animal combats in the morning. The execution of prisoners happened around noon and could stretch on for a couple of hours. I won’t go into the details. This was followed by the gladiatorial combats where one lived and the other did not. By the end of the day the sand floor would be soaked in blood. Our guide said the Emperor provided free tickets to the masses to fill the seats and provided free food and wine throughout the day. I had assumed the Colosseum was built as an entertainment venue to raise income for the government. Our guide said the events at the Colosseum were designed to appease the masses. This gift of entertainment kept the masses from insurrection.
I have to say I was a little nauseous at the end of the tour just thinking about the horror of what had transpired at the Colosseum, but again our guide warned us against judging the people too harshly. She said we humans today still crave violence for entertainment. She pointed to many of our sporting events. And then there is the violence and death we watched on movies, television shows and even cartoons. Sure we know it’s fake, but what is it in us that needs to see violence in a film anyway?
There is something in our human nature that moves quickly to anger, hate and even violence. I check in in myself when my dog gets too rambunctious and knicks me with his teeth when we are playing tug of war. My instant response is to want to pop him on the head, but I usually stop myself and settle for an angry outcry. I see it in my husband when he watches the news. The news makes us both a little crazy these days. As people, there is a seed of aggression that lurks within us just waiting to be stirred to life. And yet we same human beings can create works of great beauty and offer deeds of great kindness. It’s a mystery!
Who will we be? Will we be full of hate or full of love; full of actions of compassion or full of violence? Paul invites us to allow Christ Jesus to lead us into God’s will. He writes: “I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Rom 2: 1-2). Only God has the power to make us to be new creations in the image of God.
It is important to know who we are with all the potential for good and for evil. It is also crucial to know that God calls us to walk in his light, to learn from his gracious son and to be guided by his Spirit of love.
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