Thursday, July 12, 2012

Homer's Mighty King

It was one of those "Great Books" classes.  I needed another elective before graduating, so I took a course that required me to read all the books I've ever wanted to read but didn't have the time for.  Pretty brilliant, huh?

Dante, Cervantes, Voltaire.  It was a classic lovers dream.  Then we came to Homer's The Odyssey, and I fell in love.  It was the prose, it was the story, it was the heroes.  It was everything wrapped into one long, arduous adventure.  The tale of a king and his warriors, coming home after being away at war for years.  It wasn't until the main character, Odysseus, arrived home that it finally clicked.
Greek Warrior by ~al-Brazyly

Odysseus was the Greek king of Ithaca.  In The Illiad, first book of Homer's tale, it took Achilles and his soldiers 10 years to travel to Troy and fight for Helen's rescue.  Afterwards, it took 10 years for Odysseus and his men to return home.  During this time, his son had grown to a young man, and his wife Penelope was plagued with suitors.   When he finally arrives at Ithaca, most all his men have either abandoned him or died during the numerous exploits of their seafaring voyage.

Here was the war-wearied king, come home at last.

But Odysseus knew that once he stepped foot on the shore of his kingdom...he would be killed.  The suitors who drained his home of food and money, and had mocked his wife for remaining true to him, would spare no time in delivering to him a swift and merciless death.  And so Athena, the goddess who had watched over him in Troy and during his journey home, disguises him as an old beggar.

No more words, not now -
Athena stroked Odysseus with her wand.
She shriveled the supple skin on his lithe limbs,
stripped the russet curls from his head, covered his body
toe to toe with the wrinkled hide of an old man
and dimmed the fire in his eyes, so shining once...

He comes to the island, and enters the barn of one of his hired hands.  There Odysseus sits and ponders his next line of action.  He has a kingdom to establish, and revenge to rain upon his enemies who seek to usurp his throne.

And suddenly his son walks in.
Colmar Painter - Running Warrior - Walters

As the reader, you can't help but want for a reunion.  "Run to Telemachus, Odysseus!  Embrace him!  Kiss him!  Cry for joy!  Jump and shout for love for one another!"  But Odysseus doesn't immediately reveal himself.  The king-warrior just sits there and strikes up a cordial conversation with his son.  They talk of the current affairs of the kingdom, then the son turns and leaves.  You see, Odysseus had a plan.  And there would be time for tears and joy later.  Homer continues the story, and describes how his hero eventually picks up the sword and destroys his enemies, reunites with his loved one, and establishes his kingdom.

It's interesting, but Homer was somewhat prophetic with his story.  500 years later, another King would come to his country, disguised as a poor rabbi.  The beginning of the book of John in the bible begins this way:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God. All things were made through him,
and without him nothing was made that was made.

The passage is talking about Jesus.  How Jesus was not only with God in the beginning, but he is God.  It goes on to tell how Jesus came to the ones he created, and they didn't recognize him.  They didn't know him.

A king who came among his own, disguised, to establish his kingdom.

In fact, if you read through the first four books of the New Testament of the bible, there were a lot of people who weren't happy with the point of trying to kill him.  Very similar to Odysseus.  But when one looks deep into the words and actions of Jesus, that's where the similarities between Odysseus and Jesus stop. Homer's Odysseus was a fictitious character whereas Jesus was an historical person accounted for by five historians within the first two centuries AD.  Odysseus brought judgement through a sword; Jesus did not come to bring judgement, but peace. And while Odysseus sought to establish his kingdom through use of cunning and a bloodbath, Jesus went a different route:

He fed the poor.        He lifted up the weak.         He forgave the prostitutes.       He reached out to the lost.

   He healed the brokenhearted.          He brought freedom to the captive.     He countered hypocrisy.

He sacrificed his life to bring us to God.

When we look at kings, dictators, and presidential candidates, there's a lot of boasting that goes on.  People are lifting themselves up to vie for position and power.  Jesus allowed people to lift him up...onto a cross.  He could have gone into seclusion, or found asylum in another country, but he had a plan.  And that plan had to do with making a way for you to reach God.  That way doesn't involve jumping through hoops, or obeying an impossible set of rules.   There are plenty of other religions and cults that require that.  Instead, it takes belief.

For God so loved the world, that He gave His one and only son,
that whoever believed in him should not perish but have everlasting life.

Life is what God offers you.  There will be a time for judgement, a time when all people will stand before God and give an account.  But for those who put their trust in Jesus, that day will be a day of joy.  For everlasting life begins now, with the gift of God to everyone who believes.  Think about the life you have now.  No doubt there may be happiness, family, satisfaction in a job, or fun with your friends.  Even traveling the world and seeing the beauty in nature or people.  But it also can include anger, hatred, jealousy, pride, violence, lust, and greed.  A lot of things that separate you from God and the life He desires to give you: compassion, peace, joy, and truth.  That kind of life makes us complete, and brings a peaceful and joyful relationship with Jesus, the king who came down to give you life filled to the top.

If you want to have that life, to know God and walk with Jesus, spend some time praying to God right now.  There are no magic words.  Just spend time in prayer asking for God's forgiveness, and put your trust in Jesus who died for your sins when he was lifted up on that cross.  Then God will raise you up a new person, just as He raised Jesus up three days after he died.  The life God gives is packed down and running over.  He loves you and wants you to know Him in a very personal way.  If you prayed that prayer, get involved in a Christian church and get to know others who are filled with this awesome God-given life.

When I look back in history, I don't see any king that lived out the humility and life as Jesus did.  The way he poured out himself for others and pointed towards a life of light rather than darkness.  Establishing a kingdom where the love was uncondional, the law wasn't determined by a person's pride, and where each person looked after another's needs above his or her own.  Such a kingdom could never be accomplished through the actions of a Greek war-driven king, or any other ruler for that matter.  I think such a kingdom is one that we'd all want to be included in.

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