Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Meet Telemachus

In the course of preparing to teach an adult Sunday school class this fall on an overview of the Gospels, I came upon the account of the very famous Christian, Telemachus, as told by William Barclay in his commentary of the gospel of Mark [Daily Bible Study Series; St. Andrews Press: 1956, pp. 208-210].  I will reprise it here in my own words.

Telemachus was a monk who believed that isolating himself from the world was the surest way to secure his salvation.  And for a while he lived alone praying and studying.  He soon realized, however--I have to think his praying paid off--that such devotion to God was more self-serving than God-serving.  So he decided to go to Rome where the need was greatest.  It was late in the fourth century, and by this time Rome, as the entire Roman Empire, was officially Christian.  Telemachus arrived to a great celebration of a victory the Romans had recently won against the Goths.  The conquering general paraded before the people along side Emperor Honorius in the proud tradition of Rome, except people now poured forth from churches instead of temples.  One thing had not changed with the advent of Christian dominion, though; they still held gladiatorial fights to the death as part of the festivities--although, these were forced upon members of the defeated armies and no longer included martyrdom of Christians.   The humble monk came to the famed Colosseum just after the chariot races to behold a restive crowd, eighty thousand strong.  The tension was palpable as the fighters took center stage.  Telemachus, shocked that such brutality still existed in an Empire that had supposedly bowed to King Jesus, jumped the barrier, and stood between opposing gladiators.  The crowd shouted for him to get off the arena; one of the fighters pushed him away, but Telemachus quickly rebounded.  As only a blood-thirsty crowd of such a long and violent tradition could, the spectators demanded, in so many words,Telemachus' head.  The order went out, and whoosh, wang, the old monk fell dead in his own blood.  The crowd grew silent.  As if awakened from a drunken stupor, the people, for the first time, clearly saw the horrid inconsistency of their blood-lust with the gospel of Christ.  The gladiators wouldn't fight that day.  The crowd dispersed, and never again were such bloody spectacles held in Rome.  Telemachus' singular act of love had ended for good the centuries-long tradition of the gladiators.

True story.

How did that little old man accomplish such a great feat?  He didn't foment, or perpetuate a culture war.  He didn't stand outside the forum disparaging the current administration.  He didn't draw a sword and start hacking away at everyone opposing his world-view.  No, Telemachus abandoned himself completely to King Jesus, trusted Christ, and bore fruit for the kingdom of God.

Now, some of you reading this might complain; "Where was Christ in all of this?  Telemachus entrusted his life to Jesus.  Why didn't Jesus save Telemachus?"

Here is Jesus' answer:

If anyone wants to become my follower, he must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and for the gospel will save it. For what benefit is it for a person to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his life?  What can a person give in exchange for his life? For if anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will also be ashamed of him when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”  [Mark 8:34-38][NET]