Beware the Ides of March!
This line is from the Shakespeare play Julius Caesar. The Ides of March – March 15 – is the day when, in the play, the Emperor Julius Caesar is stabbed in the back by his colleagues.
The idea was that if they all stabbed him in the back, no one individual could be accused of his murder, an idea that would certainly not stand up in court today.
The idea of stabbing someone in the back lives on in our modern imagination.
We describe ourselves as being stabbed in the back when our friends or colleagues betray us unexpectedly; when we don’t see the attack coming, when we feel safe and comfortable.
And of course stabbing someone in the back is seen as a cowardly way of going about attacking someone – far better and more honest to face them and confront them if we are in conflict.
The Bible has some very clear guidance for us on how to go about challenging someone who we feel has done us wrong: in Matthew 18 we read: ‘If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one. But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses.’
The Bible may be clear that confrontation is the best way, but facing someone when we have a grievance against them is incredibly difficult and can also be immensely costly to us.
In fact there are certain situations – domestic violence for example – when directly confronting someone, particularly alone, is so dangerous as to be ill advised, and other ways of tackling a problem should be found.
In my role as bishop, one of the things I find toughest is having to sit down with people over whom I have authority, and confront them with issues or problems that need addressing.
It’s a necessary part of my job because otherwise problems will go unaddressed and wrongs will go uncorrected.
But I can find it incredibly stressful and personally costly. No wonder we all sometimes choose not to address a problem for fear of making it worse; no wonder we sometimes plot more devious solutions with colleagues in preference to directly tackling the person we feel is doing us wrong.
As the Ides of March come round, and with it the memory of Julius Caesar being stabbed in the back by those who plotted against his leadership, my prayers are with you in your conflicts and your challenges, knowing the courage and the love you require to do this safely and well.