“Et tu, Brute?”
Recognize those words? They are possibly the most famous three words uttered in literature . . . these words, written by Shakespeare from his play Julius Caesar, have come down through history to mean the ultimate betrayal by one’s closest friend. The word are spoken in the scene in which the conspirators in the Roman Senate assassinate Caesar. Among those participating in the killing of Caesar is Brutus, a close friend of Caesar . . . thus the words, “Et tu, Brute?” Much to Caesar’s surprise even one of his closest friends has stabbed him in the back . . . “Even you, Brutus?”
Such a nasty word that is highlighted by such words as disloyalty . . . unfaithfulness . . . disappointment . . . violation . . . deception. “Betrayal is the breaking or violation of a presumptive contract, trust, or confidence that produces a moral and psychological conflict within a relationship between individuals, between organizations or between individuals and organizations”, according to one source. Or, as Caesar experiences in Shakespeare’s play, it is getting stabbed in the back. No one enjoys getting stabbed in the back.
No one enjoys being betrayed. Having said that, I imagine that all of us have stories of being on the short end of being betrayed. Shoot, I also imagine that we have stories of having been a part of betrayal in our lives. The bottom line is that all of us understand what the word means and how it affects us . . . it sucks.
Ask God, God will tell you.
Our reading this morning is about betrayal. This is the story about the prophet Hosea, which is a reflection of God’s story. Hosea’s turf was the northern kingdom of Israel. The focus of his preaching was to be on the idolatry of the people and their continued unfaithfulness towards God . . . to preach about their betrayal of God. This was something that Hosea understood thanks to a marriage that was arranged by God.
As the story goes, God commands Hosea to marry a prostitute . . . not quite the most reasonable or smart thing to do in the eyes of the community . . . sort of made him the laughing stock of the people. So he married the prostitute named Gomer . . . and they have children . . . three to be exact. Children that would have a tough road ahead of them in life as they were the children of a prostitute . . . outcasts and pariahs in the community. Each child’s name represents the brokenness of God’s relationship with the people . . . echoes the betrayal that God feels. A betrayal that Hosea knows from experience as Gomer leaves him to be with other men. Hosea understands. Thus the message of his preaching to the people is simple . . . repent and return to God.
Return to God . . . that seems to be a prevalent plea throughout the history of Christianity . . . throughout history, period. That seems to be something we have heard a time or two during this political season and the tumultuous times that we are living in. We need to return to God. Are we living in a season of betrayal . . . and, if so, who betrayed whom?
As a follower of Jesus I have attempted to embrace the simple command that he asked upon all of his followers . . . to love the Lord completely, and to love others as we love ourselves. I have always interpreted that to mean that I need to focus on my relationship with God in a loving and intimate relationship that spins out into relating to others in a like manner. A simple command, but a difficult one to live up to on a daily basis. Yet, that is what I believe we are all called to focus on in our lives. And, I believe that this is the first and most important thing that we can do with our lives . . . everything else comes second. We are called to “kingdom building.”
The Book of Hosea paints a pretty bleak picture of the people of God in their relationship with God. Using his own experience of betrayal . . . of having a wife who sleeps around, Hosea points to the people and proclaims to them—for God, “Et tu, Brute?” As Gomer sleeps with other men, the northern kingdom—Israel, leaves God to dally with other gods. It is a bleak picture of betrayal and no one enjoys being called a traitor . . . not then or now. So, Hosea’s message and plea, return to God.
In looking at the world around us . . . listening to all of the rhetoric being thrown around . . . watching the nightly news . . . the word on the street seems to be that we are living in some pretty messed up times that reflect the possibility that humanity has strayed a ways from God . . . a long way from God. Our time, in the minds of many, is that these are not what God wants. That humanity has wandered away from God. That humanity has betrayed God. I have even heard that the “end is coming.”
And, who are we to argue? The similarities are pretty consistent. It is almost as if we are walking in the shoes of Hosea. Is there any “good news” to come out of this situation . . . out of this story of Hosea and God’s betrayal? Of course there is.
Despite the bleakness of the story . . . despite all the pain that is felt in the story . . . there is “good news” . . . there is hope. And, again, it comes in Hosea’s own story. That hope is built upon that idiom that we, the faithful, often forget . . . God never gives up on us. Hosea never gave up on Gomer. As Hosea offered Gomer a relationship despite her betrayal, so would God for the people of the northern kingdom of Israel. The constant love of God for the people would prevail. God would win back the hearts of the people. As Hosea could not give up on Gomer, neither could God give up on Israel. This love was too expansive, too broad, for God to give up . . . God would not run away as the people had. God would stand with them despite their betrayal.
Despite the bleakness of the world we are living in today . . . there is hope. God will not abandon us despite humanity’s betrayal of God and the ways of God. God will stick with us. But . . . we need to return to God. We need to return to what we have been called to do as the followers of Jesus. We need to work on our relationship with God . . . to embrace the intimacy of God’s love and grace into our lives . . . to make it our own . . . to realize God’s immense love for us as individuals . . . to be who God created us to be—the children of God. We need to then allow that love to spill out of us in the relationships we have with others . . . in the relationships we have with each other. We need to love others as we are loved by God . . . as we love ourselves. This is the return to God that we need.
That command from Jesus came in a dialogue with someone who was questioning him about the commandments and laws of faith. The question was, which is the most important. Jesus told the individual that loving God and others was the most important. Then, to emphasis just how important these were, Jesus said, that with these two are covered all the laws and words of the prophets. If you do these, everything else will take care of itself.
Return to God.
That’s it. That is what we all need to do . . . return to God. In a world that has betrayed God . . . turned its back on God and others . . . we find hope. Hope because God does not give up on us . . . because God desires a relationship with us . . . because God loves us. Paraphrasing God in Hosea 11:8, God declares: “How can I give you up, Israel? How can I abandon you? . . . My heart will not let me do it! My love for you is too strong!”
In our times, that is still the “good news”. Ask Hosea. Ask God. They will tell you . . . and, they should know. Amen.