Juggling Fire

Philemon’s Big News

We’re studying the book of Philemon in the School of Biblical Studies. Today, our assignment was to write a short essay from the point of view of either Paul, Onesimus, or Philemon. I chose Philemon. Thought I’d share. It was a fun assignment!

Philemon’s Big News

We had just opened services last Sabbath when upon lifting my head from prayer I recognized a leader from the Church of Colosse standing at the entryway to the main room.

The man nodded apologetically as I acknowledged his presence and then raised his hand to bring attention to what appeared to be a single piece of parchment.

“Pardon me, Philemon,” he cut in softly, “but we received word just today regarding an urgent matter of your concern.”

I gave him the go-ahead to elaborate.

“This letter, written by our brother Paul from his prison cell in Rome, was delivered just an hour ago by our brother Tychicus.” The man paused, looked to the floor, and lowered his voice, “and by your slave, the one known as Onesimus.”

The hush from the congregation rattled my head for a few seconds.

“Please, please, come forward.” I waved him up, trying to maintain my calm. “Please, read the letter.”

The man fixed his gaze on the front of the congregation; his feet followed. He turned, positioned himself properly, and began reading: “Paul, a prisoner for Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother, to Philemon our beloved fellow worker and Apphia our sister,” and so on, until I and everyone listening were certain the correspondence inside this letter encompassed serious dimensions.

“I appeal to you for my child, Onesimus, whose father I became in my imprisonment. Formerly he was useless to you, but now he is indeed useful to you and to me.”

I could hardly believe my ears. The fact that my slave Onesimus remained alive at all was astonishing, for I had heard of his leaving quite some time ago. And now, he has been a pupil of our brother Paul, imprisoned across the Adriatic Sea! Slaves could be crafty, indeed, but to elude the confinement of slavery and navigate all the way to Rome? And win the heart of Paul? I was intrigued, and also taken aback.

Paul’s words took me to a place I had not remembered in many years. I recalled how he, at one time destined for damnation, had taken me under his wing. I was undeserving, but in so learning about our Great Redeemer, I developed a mighty respect for our brother now in chains. I was convinced Paul’s transformed and generous heart remained the same as his words tumbled out of the deliverer’s mouth.

“I am sending him back to you, sending my very heart,” our messenger read. “I would have been glad to keep him with me, in order that he might serve me on your behalf, but I preferred to do nothing without your consent.”

The messenger looked at me for a mere second and continued, “For this perhaps is why he was parted from you for a while, that you might have him back forever, no longer as a bondservant but more than a bondservant, as a beloved brother.”

The note concluded with Paul’s own promise to pay any debt owed by my slave, any amount stolen and used for his escape, or any price paid for his replacement. Why, I struggled to even remember this bondservant’s face exactly! I would need to check my record books for his precise value.

The gentleman passed the paper into my hands and bowed a polite farewell. The congregation sat as silent as they had the moment the man announced the contents of the letter. Only now, instead of on the messenger, every eye fixated on me.

Everyone awaited my response, I suppose. But I had no immediate answer to give.

I had much to consider … and a guest room to prepare.

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