(The story here is a version of what might have happened when the slave Onesimus returned to his master, Philemon. Purely conjecture, it is nevertheless partly based on facts.)
I heard the door of the outer chamber open and close and went to investigate. Quartus stood with Onesimus kneeling next him. Onesimus stared down, holding out a sealed letter.
“Onesimus has returned, master,” Quartus said.
“I see that, Quartus; you may leave us.” I was full of conflicting emotions. Anger. Sadness. Confusion. Mostly relief. “The letter, Onesimus; what is this letter? Hand it to me.”
He stood and handed me the letter. He remained standing with his eyes averted while I read the whole thing through. In fact, I had to read it twice. It was from Paul, the apostle, imprisoned in Rome. The letter was a plea on behalf of my slave–a request to accept him back now that he’d become a follower of Christ.
It was a good letter and he made good arguments.
“Do you know what this means, Onesimus?” I asked him.
Onesimus nodded, his eyes still averted. “Master, I cannot speak as Paul does. His words are much more convincing. Of course, they are or I wouldn’t be here. All I know is that now I belong to Christ Jesus. I was freed from the bonds of my sin to serve Him. I suppose you could say I’m a slave in two ways; first to God and then because I’m still bound to you. That’s why I’ve returned.”
Yes, he knew exactly what it meant.
“You may go to your quarters, Onesimus.” He left and I sat down heavily on the chair by the table.
He’d made it all the way to Rome! Somehow he’d found Paul and now he was a follower of Christ and a brother. Of course, he knew what could happen to a runaway slave. But he returned.
I got up and paced the room. I pounded my fist on the table where the letter lay. I don’t know why I was so agitated. Paul’s letter requested nothing more than what my Lord would do. But forgiveness is hard, even when it’s someone you care about. And I had always cared about Onesimus. Maybe we hadn’t always seen him as anything but a house slave, but we cared about him.
I put my head in my hands and I prayed. I thanked God that Onesimus had made it safely to Rome and found Paul. It was a blessing that he could be of use to Paul so I thanked God for that as well. Then I prayed that God would give our household the willingness to accept my decision because we are bound together in love with Christ as our head. I sighed deeply before calling him to me.
“Onesimus, come!” Once again, he stood before me, his eyes cast down.
“Look at me,” I said. A man is what I saw through my eyes. But now, because of what had happened for Onesimus in Rome, I saw someone else in my heart.
I put my hands on his shoulders and squeezed. “Welcome home, Brother. It will be a pleasure having you here serving again.”