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Onesimus runs from his slavery. What can his owner do?

This Week’s Story relives American history and the Bible through brief inspiring stories presented on mp3 audio recordings and text for reading.

Onesimus: I am property. Just property. part one

“Philemon, I wonder why your slave ran away. Did he think he would find freedom? You, are not a cruel or unfair owner. Your friends know you to be generous and loving.”

“My friend, slavery is a terrible practice for our town and the Roman Empire. It sucks initiative and opportunity from the free. The Roman government’s laws strip slaves of respect, but we are powerless to change laws and the Roman government.

“I suspect my slave Onesimus dreams about what he thinks he should have. I know he has been nearly useless as a worker. He does not understand that legally his life could be much harder. This is 61 A.D. and the Roman Empire depends upon its slaves. Every time another group of people is defeated by Rome’s military forces, prisoners are taken and forced to be slaves.”

“I think Onesimus ought to be terrified about what can happen if he is caught.”

“I agree. He is responsible to me as his owner and I am responsible to God and Roman law for what I do. What obligations do Christians have to slaves when slavery is acceptable in our culture? According to the law, Onesimus is property. He is no more than a valued dog, horse, boat, or house. I can do whatever I want with him. That includes sending him to the amphitheater. Onesimus will not stay alive there if dogs or lions rip him apart.”

“Philemon, I know that we cannot protest the government’s laws about slavery, but it sure bothers me to treat slaves like they are not humans.”

As the fugitive’s disappearance caused Philemon and his friend to think about slavery, Onesimus, the slave, continued his escape from the home of his master. He stood now on the deck of a freighter soon to land in Rome’s port city. Fear began to grip him.

What would he find in Rome, the political center of the world and a city with one million people? Could he disappear into its ghettoes?

In his mind he heard shouts for mercy as he thought about what could happen to him. Words ricocheted in his brain. I am property. Just property. A slave!

When the freighter reached its destination, Onesimus found himself in a traffic jam struggling towards Rome. Four-wheeled and two wheeled vehicles powered by horses demanded space. Litters carried government officials, salespeople, and wealthy sightseers. Ox wagons transported food, building materials, and commodities from the many countries Rome had conquered. Hundreds of walkers tried to keep from getting run over and make the fifteen mile walk from the port to Rome.

Onesimus bumped an old man who looked at him and asked, “Where are you going?”

Onesimus acted like he did not understand. He thought: I don’t know where I am going.

That night he found a cheap room in an inn. The following day he walked the streets, not up in the hills outside Rome where the wealthy lived. He walked among noise and smells and came to insulae, shabby street front shops and workshops. Their owners lived above and behind the shops. Homes and shops were filthy fire traps, but he paid to sleep in one.

This is Barbara Steiner inviting you to return to part two. In the small book of Philemon in the Bible you can find out more about Philemon and Onesimus.

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