Sword of Damocles

by | Oct 21, 2013 | 2013, Musings | 0 comments

Cicero, a Roman orator and statesman wrote about the sword of Damocles. Translated by N.S. Gill, the story goes like this:

“Dionysius (II) was a fourth century B.C. tyrant of Syracuse, in the Greek area of southern Italy. To all appearances, Dionysius was very rich and comfortable, with all the luxuries money could buy, tasteful clothing and jewelry, and delectable food. He even had court flatterers to inflate his ego. One of these ingratiators was the court sycophant, Damocles.

Damocles used to make comments to the king about his wealth and luxurious life. One day when Damocles complimented the tyrant on his abundance and power, Dionysius turned to Damocles and said, ‘If you think I’m so lucky, how would you like to try out my life?’

Damocles readily agreed and so Dionysius ordered everything to be prepared for Damocles to experience what life as Dionysius was like. Damocles was enjoying himself immensely …until he noticed a sharp sword hovering over his head that was suspended from the ceiling by a horse hair. This, the tyrant explained to Damocles, was what life as a ruler was really like.

Damocles, alarmed, quickly revised his idea of what made up a good life, and asked to be excused. He then eagerly returned to his poorer, but safer life.”

You might paraphrase this story with a simple statement: Walk a mile in somebody else’s shoes before you start comparing or complaining.

I couldn’t help but think about this ancient story as I watched our government behave rather badly these last few weeks. Regardless of your political leanings, there is plenty of blame to go round. I listened to many pundits argue about the behavior of Senators, Representatives and even our President.

I wondered out loud to a friend about how I might behave in a similar situation. The complexity of the matters is great. The repercussions are even greater. Proverbial “swords” hang over the heads of all our elected officials. Their job isn’t an easy one.

Compromise is almost a dirty word in our society and we are so polarized that it is almost impossible to “walk in the other guy’s shoes” for a bit.

So, knowing that those “swords” do hang in every governmental office in the land, what should you and I do? Paul answers that question for us in I Timothy 2:1-3: “I urge then first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people-for Kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our savior.”

Since we all want to live peaceful and quiet lives, maybe this week you and I should focus more on those “swords” and commit ourselves to pray significantly for all those in authority.

By His Grace and for His Glory,
Sherry L. Worel


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