The Story of 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)
“A wise son makes a glad father: but a foolish son is the heaviness of his mother.” (Proverbs 10:1)
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 searched for him in strange cities.
In ancient times when a person was lost, it was very difficult to find them. You almost had to see them face to face 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 seen his mother some time ago and 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.
Antonis was crushed by this news and angered by what Postumus had done. He told it like it used to be rather than how things were going at the moment. Understand that once a person is down some people will never let them back up.
Antonis was moved to know that his dear mother had searched for him so desperately. If she had found Antonis instead of running into Postumus the story would have ended much differently. Postumus drove the wedge between Antonis Longus and his mother even deeper and separated this mother and son 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 City and therefore I did not come there. But I was ashamed to come to Caranis because I walk around in rags. I’m letting you know that I am naked.
I’m begging you mom, 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 inappropriately told you everything. Do you not know that I would rather be maimed than know that I still owe a man money?
Come yourself! I’m begging you … I’m begging you…”
Antonis writes a few more hard-to-decipher words, and then 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 (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, “Mom, 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. God forbid that any Christian would ever be a “Postumus.”
We have no idea if this boy and his mother ever seen each other again or 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. What did Jesus say? 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) While there is still hope.