The teenaged Roman Emperor Nero started off in AD 57 as a idealistic reformer, banning capital punishment. He forbade killing in circus contests, emphasizing instead athletics, poetry, and theater. He reduced taxes and permitted slaves to file complaints against unjust masters. But absolute power absolutely corrupted him.
Nero was born at Antium (Anzio), Italy, on December 15th 37 A.D. His father, who died when Nero was age 3, was a great-grandson of Caesar Augustus – the Roman emperor at the time of the birth of Jesus Christ (Luke 2:1).
Nero’s mother Agrippina rescued her son Nero from poverty by marrying her uncle, the emperor Claudius. Agrippina managed to get Nero adopted not only as a son of Claudius, but the heir to the throne before Claudius’ actual sons. To show her gratitude, she poisoned her husband/uncle with tainted mushrooms. Nero became the emperor of the mighty Roman empire at the age of 17.
One year after Nero became Emperor, he got tired of his mother’s interfering, and had her removed from the palace. Four years later she still kept meddling, so Nero rigged her boat to collapse on her. Being a strong swimmer, Agrippina refused to drown, so Nero had to send soldiers in to finish the job. There is a famous painting by John William Waterhouse where Nero is lying on his bed feeling remorseful for taking his mother out but any remorse did not slow him down for long. As murder can be rather addictive, Nero proceeded to present the gift of an ex-wife’s severed head to a future wife, and then kick another wife to death while she was pregnant.
Nero’s most memorable accomplishment was burning much of Rome to the ground to make room for a new palace. After six days of Rome burning, Nero discovered the value of blaming a small Jewish group called Christians. Their ringleader, the Apostle Paul, was thrown into a Roman dungeon, to prepare for his imminent beheading. If these early Christians refused to renounce their faith, Nero had them thrown to the lions, crucified, or set on fire and used as garden-party lighting.
Christianity looked as if it would be obliterated from the face of the earth. But Paul from prison wrote a second letter to his chosen successor Timothy, ‘rallying the troops’. He said to Timothy: “Don’t be ashamed to bear witness for the Lord or Paul his prisoner”. He encouraged the naturally timid Timothy not to be ashamed of Paul’s chains. Paul, though about to be exterminated, said to Timothy: “I am not ashamed, for I know whom I believe”.
Breaking the power of shame is absolutely vital to living a free and healthy life. All of us have at least one Nero in our life who would like to enslave us, entrap us, and fill us with shame. It may be our relatives, our boss, our ex-spouse, our own personal addictions to fear, guilt, anger. By breaking the power of shame and self-hatred, we can live fully without regret. The key, said Paul, to breaking the power of shame, is in ‘knowing whom we believe’.
I would challenge each one reading this article to no longer let our personal Neros cover our faces with shame. Live free. Live forgiven. Live in the healing embrace of the One who gave everything so that you might really live.
The Rev. Dr. Ed Hird, Rector
BSW, MDiv, DMin
-previously published in the Deep Cove Crier
-award-winning author of the book Battle for the Soul of Canada
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