Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Let Me Down Easy

And I comin' home to see you Jesus
Well it feels so close this time
Please take mercy on this soldier
From the Florida-Georgia line

When they find me they must kill me
Oh Jesus save my soul
I can't go back down to Raiford
I can't take that anymore

- Lynyrd Skynyrd

I heard this song the other day & quite enjoyed. And since I'm a preacher (and weird) I thought, "I wonder if the slave Onesimus thought sort of the same thoughts when he was escaping from his master." And then I thought, what a great candidate for this week's obscure Bible passage of the week.

You see, to the best of our knowledge, Onesimus was a runaway slave. And somewhere along the line, he encountered the Apostle Paul & became a disciple of Christ. And, as I'm sure it happened, one night Onesimus made a confession to his new brother & friend, Paul. Probably after dinner, sitting around a fire. "Paul, believe it or not, I'm a runaway slave." And as it would happen, Paul actually knew Onesimus' former master! What were the odds! Paul & Onesimus both knew that the life he was living wasn't right and that Onesimus needed to square himself with his old master. And I'm sure the prospect of this made Onesimus very nervous. In this day, you don't just runaway from a slave master, return, and hope everything goes back to normal like in the story of the Prodigal Son. No, No -- they make an example out of you! So Paul sent Onesimus, with a letter, back to his former master -- Philemon.

And I just love this letter. If there was ever a funnier case of someone saying, "You sure better do what I tell you to do," in a round-about way, I'd like to see it. Paul starts by pleading (even though he says he could order ;-D, v. 8) Philemon to accept Onesimus & release him. He talks about how "useful" Onesimus (which is what Onesimus means ... "useful") had been to him & how he wanted to keep him around. But Paul was too polite to do that without asking permission -- what a thoughtful person Paul is. ;-D And this Onesimus, he's no longer just a slave, you know, he's a brother in Christ. Just like Paul was to Philemon. What a pill that must have been for Philemon to swallow ...

And then Paul begins to really pull the strings (here in my very own "The Message"-like translation):

"And, so, BTW Philemon, if he owes you anything, just charge it to my account. (Hmmmm, even though not to mention that you owe me your very life ... but, you know ...)

"Yeah ... and even though I've asked this as a favor, I'm so confident in your 'obedience' that you will probably go the extra mile in doing this for me."

(HA! I love how Paul plants it in Philemon's head that he even EXPECTS Philemon to do MORE than he is asking of him.)

"Oh, and not that I'm trying to pressure you or hold you accountable or anything, buuuuuut I will be stopping through soon ... just to make sure everything is on the up & up, you know :)

"One final thing: Epaphras, Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, & Luke all say hello. Oh, and they know about Onesimus, too. :)

"See ya soon, buddy!"

Wow, he laid it on thick, huh?

So what do we learn from the epistle to Philemon? No, I'm asking you. Please tell me. Is it that overt manipulation is ok? Is it that you can use any kind of means to compel someone to do the right thing? I'm really unsure. Faithful readers, help me with the moral to this story.

I haven't been posting as regularly lately. Sorry. I've been a little uncomfortable with all the readers I've acquired recently. I know there aren't many of you, but still. Not sure how much this qualifies as voyeurism -- and I know I'm not comfortable with that at all.

This started out as a forum for me to get my thoughts out, and now it's a quasi- source of entertainment for some of you. I think I'm going to start a private blog to continue my personal thoughts. I'll still post ideas & other stuff here, though. It'll probably end up being stuff like this, though, (Bible passages, sermons, etc.) and other frivolous things like sports & pop culture. And maybe some philosophy or psychology or world events or anything else cool. We'll see.

Just found out that a good buddy of mine is getting married. He and I were room-mates for my first two years at UF. We've been good buddies since HS. I'm excited for him.

On a weird note, I also found that his parents just got divorced a few months ago. So strange. I think his Mom is living with another guy. I used to hang out with them all the time. I got to talk with him about it for a while, listen, & share some of my experiences and offer what little wisdom God granted me through a divorce (2nd Cor. 1:3-4).

Divorce stinks. Cherish your wives, boys.

I'm in a great mood today. I know what you're thinking and, NO, it's not a girl! I'm in a music-y mood -- I've just been especially enjoying a lot of music today. Especially Bebo Norman.

Right now I'm listening to my Pandora. I've really fine-tuned my station well. Right now some Lisa Loeb just came on. Man, she's so stinkin' hot. I wish she was a Christian -- she would be just like Jennifer Knapp with a more girly, less raspy, voice.

If you're interested in my Pandora station, lemme know & I'll share it with you.


Matt said...

You have to love Philemon. There are some theories that have just come out in the last 5-10 years or so on the background of this book that make all the sense in the world. The old theory is that Onesimus runs away and happens to run into Paul (of all people) and gets Paul to try to sway Philemon to let him come back gracefully.

The new theory is based on nearly contemporary documents by Pliny (if my memory is right) where a slave gets in trouble and goes to Pliny to seek reconciliation. It was legal at the time for a slave to go to someone of greater standing than their master to have that person plead there case. In fact in that situation the slave was not considered a runaway once the situation was understood as he intended to come back.
This theory is much more plausible because what is the chance Onesimus would happen to run into Paul in the biggest city in the world at the time (with Paul in prison nonetheless!). This theory has Onesimus seeking him out to help him get back in good graces with his master. If you want a good source on this check out the Anchor Bible commentary on Philemon that came out around 2000-2001 by Joseph A. Fitzmyer. You can get it with shipping for under $10 at

He has transcripts of a few of the ancient letter that shed some light on this wonderful book.
Nice post, keep 'em coming :)

Matt said...

To add to what I said a moment ago, it seems the moral of the story is grace. It is not about manipulation and coercion but about gracefully accepting Philemon back for who he was, a brother. Because there is now neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, etc.