Mutual Reconciliation (Antonis Longus)
Robert Wurtz II
Leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. (Matthew 5:24 NKJV)
There is a tragic ancient story found on an old decayed papyrus fragment, of a prodigal Egyptian boy named Antonis Longus, who had quarreled with his dear widowed mother. They got into a spat, and he ended up leaving home. He then embarked on a life of prodigal living. The mother longed for her son to return home and even went looking for him in strange cities. In ancient times when a person was lost, it was very difficult to find them as one had to almost see them face to face in order to identify them. This mother searched and searched for her lost son — longing to reestablish communication. In time, she happened upon a family acquaintance named Postumus that reminded the mother of every last offense her son had committed. He then included the troubles he had gotten into since their estrangement. The two parted, and she went back home.
Over the course of time, Postumus happened upon Antonis Longus, the prodigal son. He told him of how he had saw his mother some time ago and had reminded her of how bad a boy he is. Perhaps Postumus rationalized that it is better in these circumstances for the mother to be angry at her son than mourning over him. However, Antonis was crushed by this news and angered by what this man had done. He was moved to know that his dear mother had been looking for him so desperately.
Postumus had driven an even deeper wedge between Antonis Longus and his mother; almost to the point of hopelessness. It was this occasion that gave rise to his hastily written letter:
“Antonis Longus to Nilus [my] mother many greetings. Continually do I pray that you are in health. […] I wish you would understand that I had no hope that you would go up to the metropolis. And therefore I did not come there. But I was ashamed to come to Caranis, because I walk about in rags. I write [or “have written”] to you that I am naked. I beseech thee, mother, be reconciled to me. Furthermore, I know what I have brought upon myself. I have been chastened in every way. I know that I have sinned. I have heard from Postumus, who met you in the country around Arsinoe and out of season told you everything. Do you not know that I would rather be maimed than know that I still owe a man money? . . . . come thyself! I beseech thee … I beseech thee…”
He says a few more hard to decipher words, and then the the papyrus breaks off. Imagine being the archaeologist that located this fragment after some 2000 years and wondering if Antonis ever found and reconciled with his mother. He had referred to himself using his mother’s childhood endearing name for him “Antonius.” The poor boy was a bad speller, but he used the same construction Jesus used when he said, prōton diallagēthi (get reconciled) in Matthew 5:24. The sentence, “I beseech thee, mother, be reconciled (dialagēti) with me.” The crumbling old paper ends with the words of this woman’s dear son begging her, “I beseech thee… I beseech thee…” In more modern language we would read the words, “Mother, I’m begging you… I’m begging you…!” (Light from the Ancient East, pp 187-192)
Our Greek verb for reconciled is unique and is only used once in the New Testament. In the TDNT Kittel informs us that the word denotes mutual concession after mutual hostility. The word carries an expectation that both parties who were angry at each other are to work together until the anger is put away and there is reconciliation. Concession implies yielding to one another in such a way that an agreement can be made. This is a two party process. In the case of Antonis, his mother reached out for him and he reached back out for her. This is instructional. However, the trouble was that Postumus was sowing division and interrupting the process.
We have no idea if this boy and his mother were ever reconciled. They have long since gone to their reward. What we do know is that if there is breath in our lungs we can make things right between one another. Leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. (Matthew 5:24 NKJV)