ONESIMUS' RESOLVE WAS MADE MORE
difficult by the fact that Philemon's friendship with Polemon came to an abrupt end.
A few days after the party from Ephesus had arrived Polemon came over to talk business and to enquire about the guilds. But Philemon explained that he had not been able to join the guilds. How could he, as a Christian, take part in their feasts and eat the food offered to idols and bind himself to the brotherhood by sacrificing to gods? He talked to Polemon about Christ and this very greatly offended the rich merchant. He left the house quickly, saying he desired no hospitality from a lunatic and would enquire at the Laodicean medical school about a potion for brain fever. But he continued to buy Philemon's wool because it was the best in the valley.
All through the hot fruitful days Philemon attended to his harvesting, and Epaphras remained in Colosse. Onesimus ran between the threshing floor, the winepress, the olive yards and Archippus. But although Archippus longed for his strong young companionship more than ever, he did not need him as before. For one thing, he had learned to walk with a crutch and was becoming quite independent, and, for another, his mother and little Pascasia competed with each other to wait on him hand and foot. Also, he had started to study the Jewish scriptures and was already beginning to take his place as a teacher.
For night after night when the work of the day was
finished and the dusk had fallen, the people began to arrive, stealing up from the town and in from the pastures; and a strangely assorted crowd would gather in the atrium: shepherds and reapers smelling of the flocks and the fields, tired slaves, women and little children, dignified merchants and a group of exiled Jews. Among these were two or three keen-eyed Rabbis with their Pentateuchs and scrolls of history tucked under their arms. These had been but old stories of dead men and but revered words from the past, until they had suddenly discovered Christ blazing out from every parchment. Now, night after night, they pored over them, tracing the signs of His coming, reading new, living interpretations into words that had hitherto been dead. The slaves and the labourers and the mothers would soon slip out, overcome by sleep and much learning, but Philemon, Epaphras and the Rabbis would sometimes continue until the stars paled.
There was little opposition at that time. Everyone was too busy getting in the harvests. The Rabbis were excommunicated from their synagogues for teaching heresy and consorting with unclean Gentiles; but they felt drawn to unclean Gentiles and did not greatly care. Philemon was highly respected in the town and was left to do as he pleased. But from other cities, where Epaphras had preached the Gospel and founded small churches, there came rumours of persecution and the fear of death.
"The olives are in," said Epaphras to Philemon, as they sat one noon day enjoying the golden autumn sunlight, "the harvests are stored. I should like you to come with me on my trip north and encourage and exhort our suffering brethren." "And who will care for the church here?" asked Philemon.
Epaphras' gaze rested thoughtfully on Archippus who was sitting a little way apart struggling with his longing to go too. "I think you, Archippus, could start to undertake that