Despite being words from another language, these words are seared into our national conscience as words that signify great betrayal. The Bard himself, William Shakespeare, immortalized the phrase in his play Julius Caesar, but before he inscribed them for stage, already people associated these words with political betrayal. They were rumored by some to be the final words of the Roman Dictator Julius Caesar as he was assassinated by a group of Senators circa 44BC. One of the senators who was part of the assassination was Brutus, a close general of Julius, who upon seeing his friend among those attacking him called out, “et tu, Brute?” which is, “and you, Brutus?” or “even you?!”
It’s not a pretty scene, and yet, it feels familiar. Most of us can identify with a moment of betrayal. Surely, it’s not as dramatic as assassination by your closest comrade, but it sure feels like it some times. Betrayal comes in many forms, and it always hurts.
Betrayal is not simply when Judas comes to the garden and notifies the guards of who is to be carried away by kissing Jesus. Betrayal not only drips from the fingertips of Judas, who dips his hand into the bowl of the last supper. Betrayal is Peter, the rock upon whom the early church is built, denying that he even knows Jesus. Betrayal is when the going gets tough, the disciples quit gathering for a while. The crowds quit showing up when there’s not a show going on.
At Julius Caesar’s betrayal and death, Rome renamed the month in which the ruler was born, July in his honor. And a new ruler came to power, Gaius Octavius Thurinus, who having been adopted by Julius, took on the name, Caesar. Not satisfied with being called the eighth (which is Octavius), he instead took to calling himself Divi Filius which is “Son of God.” (and you thought modern day politicians were full of themselves.) Divi, formerly the eighth, began to think that “Son of God” wasn’t a sufficient name for his accomplishments, so he added Augustus, “the increaser.” Essentially “bigger” is better, at least for his name.
So, the people of Rome renamed their leader “Imperator Caesar Divi Filius Augustus,” and then they named the eighth month August. And you may have heard about a decree that Augustus Caesar issued that a census should be taken of all the Roman empire (after all, how can you call yourself the increaser if you don’t know the number of your subjects.)
And in the shadow of betrayal, in the height of a self-absorbed quest to be the best and the biggest, a small infant is born in humble circumstances. Wise people seek not to count their own accomplishments but to worship this infant—the way in which God shows up despite betrayals and greed and apart from it
In my own life, while I can think of external betrayals, I have often betrayed my own self. It is the mirror to whom I proclaim, “Even you?!” Paul says of his own inner conflict, “For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do.” (Romans 7:19) and frequently, I betray myself with my own self-absorbed quest, perhaps not in name to be the best and biggest, but to satisfy my desire to be constantly pleased above my desire to serve. Do I quit showing up when there’s not a show going on?
It’s easy to get caught up in the barrage of more, more, more. Like the children in the 1971 movie “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” Augustus Gloop bends down to sample the river of chocolate, falls in, and is suctioned up. He becomes stuck under tremendous pressure, unable to return by the way he entered, betrayed, not by the machinery which produced and transported chocolate, but by his own over consumption.
This August I invite you to consider what you want to increase, what betrays what you actually value, and what your patterns of consumption and worship might look like as we seek to worship the one who comes as a lowly infant in the shadow of a political leader who is full of himself. We worship the one who chooses love despite betrayal. We love the one who loves us despite our own betrayals. May even our smallest actions show our allegiance to God’s kingdom among us