On December 31, 192 AD, Roman emperor Commodus was assassinated. You might wonder what’s so unique about an emperor being eliminated violently … it happened with alarming frequency, In fact, history records his death as the beginning of an era called “Year of the Five Emperors.” They tried to poison his food but he spoiled the attempt by vomiting. Then they arranged for his personal trainer-wrestling partner to strangle him in his bath.
You may remember his name at least if you saw the movie Gladiator. The fictionalized Commodus was portrayed by actor Joaquin Phoenix. Hollywood altered the facts a bit, but the man was truly a degenerate. He loved the trappings of power but had no interest in using that power to rule justly. Some have speculated that his reign ushered in the decline of the empire. It is ironic that his murderer was named Narcissus. Commodus loved to parade around dressed like Hercules. He was proud of his physical prowess which he demonstrated regularly in the arena against wounded and crippled soldiers. He didn’t need much of an excuse to order Roman citizens, high and lowly, to be executed.
Power does strange things to people. Few of us manage well when entrusted with it. You don’t have to be a Roman emperor to abuse the influence and authority that comes with a position or in a relationship.
Perhaps that is why Jesus taught that we should treat others as we would wish to be treated. Perhaps that is why He felt it important to address the vying for special favor among His disciples when He said, “You know that in this world kings are tyrants, and officials lord it over the people beneath them. But among you it should be quite different. Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be you servant. For even I, the Son of Man, came here not be served but to serve others, and to give My life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:25-28).
In a political season where people are hiding behind rhetoric and spin, it seems appropriate that we not only remember the words of Jesus, but put them into practice. We could use a few more servant leaders these days.