Onesimus stood in the shadows cast by the building corner, just in view as he peeped from his place of safety was home - well the house he used to live in - in servitude, bondage, misery, despair, as one who was useless and made to feel useless in every moment of existence - the house from which he had run - never to return - and now he stood across the way, building up the courage to return.
Would a return bring life or bring death? In his pocket was a letter from Paul to his master encouraging Philemon to welcome Onesimus home, no longer useless, now useful and a brother in Christ - yet still a runaway slave and to knock on that door is to invite death. But then is this life as a runaway really life? - always the fear, watching your back, peering around corners, running scared - it is certainly not life in all its fullness, it's not life as Paul had expressed it and Onesimus had imagined it as he learned about the freedom to follow Christ - but surely it is better than no life at all - Yet to be accepted back, to be welcomed in as brother in Christ, to have a useful role, a real purpose in life would be real freedom, that would be life as he imagined, desired, and so he stood across the way - watching, fretting, quaking with fear and with excitement.
Imagine yourself in Onesimus' shoes, imagine yourself in that doorway - what scares you?, from who or from what do you run? How are you denied life in all its fullness? what are the things you must confront in your own life if you are to choose life?
or to put it into Jesus' terms. what is the cross that you need to pick up to follow the way of Jesus? and what do you need to put down or give up or be released from? - what is the cost? To choose life has a cost and to be a disciple is to choose life.
and that is good news! For it is Christ who comes to the lost and the fearful, read on in Luke's gospel and you will see that we are in the preamble for stories about a lost sheep and a lost coin and two lost sons and their Father who is full of grace and love however lost they may be - and it is the God of grace and love and mercy who is looking out from the other side of the street, waiting to welcome lost ones home.
Onesimus moved out from his hiding place, and moved across the street. There was a guard at the gate who he did not know - "I have a letter for the Master, for Philemon and I am to wait on his response" - the guard indicated that he should wait, a boy emerged to take the letter, a slave boy - his useless, pathetic servitude ousing out of every resentful movement, Onesimus prepared to run, but could not - he wanted life and this was the cost and so he waited, when the boy returned it was to take him inside the house, into the private entrance, into the Masters presence - Onesimus hardly dared look, but when he did it was to see a smile that could only mean welcome, he was home and now life could begin.