Standing up for what one believes - Antigone
I’d like you to imagine that you went to a very rough school, where there’s lots of bullying. One day you are coming towards a part of the playground which is hidden away, round a corner, and you hear some shouting and screaming, and the sound of kicking and thumping. One of your best friends is on the ground, being beaten up by some much bigger boys. He can’t take much more. He’s bleeding and his clothes are all dirty.
When the bullies see you, they tell you to clear off, as it’s none of your business. Your friend looks pleadingly at you. He needs help. But you know that if you get involved you’re likely to get hurt yourself. If you try to find some other friends to come and help, they’re likely to be scared. And it’s the sort of school where if you tell a teacher the bullies will sooner or later get their own back – either at school or afterwards, on the way home.
What do you do? You know that you should try to help - you know you should try to stop the bullying. But it’s not as simple as that – you are frightened by these bullies, who are bigger and older than you, and you know you are likely to get hurt. You know in your mind what the right thing to do is – but can you actually do it? Do you have the courage to try to rescue your friend, or call a teacher – which might put you at risk? Or do you take the easy way out, and pretend you haven’t seen what is going on?
There’s an old story from Greece which is about the very same thing – the difference between knowing what the right thing to do is, and actually having the courage to do it. In the ancient city of Thebes, there was once a civil war. Two brothers – Eteocles and Polynieces – were fighting one another, and both were killed. Eteocles’ side won the war, and the city of Thebes came to be governed by a king called Creon, who had been on the same side as Eteocles. King Creon, after the fighting had stopped, ordered that Polynieces’ body should not be buried, but should be allowed to be eaten by the wild birds and animals. Eteocles, however, was given a proper funeral. Now Eteocles and Polynieces had two sisters, called Antigone and Ismene. Antigone was furious that her brother Polynieces should be left unburied. In defiance of the king, she went out of the city to where the body was lying, and secretly performed the correct funeral ceremonies. She knew full well that she was disobeying King Creon, and that she would suffer severe consequences. But she also knew that being loyal to her brother was more important than her own well-being. Predictably, the king was furious, and had her imprisoned. In the end, Antigone finally killed herself rather than submit to the will of King Creon.
Reading: 1 John 3. 16-24
I’m not suggesting that everyone who cares for his brother or his friend will have to lay down their life for them. But the sentence which lies at the heart of that reading is “Let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth”.
One of the most difficult things in life – however old or young you are – is to do the things we believe are right. To stand up for what we believe in – and to do what that requires – even when we ourselves may suffer for doing it. Jesus did just that: he lived out in his life the things he taught others, even to the point of dying as a result of that. Antigone – in that story which we know through the great ancient Greek playwright Sophocles – put her loyalty to her brother above her own life. So whether it’s something in the playground, or things that may happen to you later as you go on through life – try to find the courage to do what you believe is right. It doesn’t mean being foolhardy. But it usually means not walking by on the other side.