A few years back I bought an old copy of Homer’s The Odyssey (not to be confused with Adventures in Odyssey) because I felt like I should. It’s a classic, after all, and I should read it. Also, it was only 50 cents. But since that time it sat on my bookshelf unread. I tried once or twice, but wasn’t feeling it. Finally, the fancy took me and I joined Odysseus on his fraught-filled journey.
The Odyssey follows in the wake of the Trojan War (as told in The Iliad, which was news to me). Most of the heroes and armies of that war have returned home to their Aegean region with more or less success. Only Odysseus, sacker of cities, remains lost, crewless, and trapped on an island under the wiles of a goddess. When he is finally freed and completes his arduous trek home, he finds his palace overrun by over 100 slobby suitors trying to steal his wife while his coming-of-age son stands by helplessly.
Under the guise of an old tramp, and with some help from the goddess Athena, Odysseus infiltrates his palace, finds those loyal to him, and leads an uprising against the suitors. When his revenge is complete, he reveals himself to his wife and father and, after a short skirmish against the suitors’ relatives, peace is instituted on Odysseus’ island.
The story of Odysseus’ adventures is among the most memorable of literature. His encounters with the Cyclopes, Circe, and others are legendary. But his slaughter of the suitors is, in modern eyes, reprehensible and appalling. It was hard to read as Odysseus plotted their murder and acted on it, yet I wondered whether or not he was just in his actions.
That question can be discussed elsewhere. What struck me about Odysseus’ homecoming was that there is a certain justice being enacted on the lazy men. They’re selfishly eating up Odysseus’ resources, they refuse to listen to wisdom about showing some restraint, and they’re sleeping with the maids while they await the matron to chose one of them as her new husband. As I thought on this scenario I noticed parallels–however imperfect–between Odysseus’ revenge and the end times.
Consider some of these: the church is like circumspect Penelope, Odysseus’ faithful wife, waiting for our husband (Jesus) to return after a long absense, sometimes questioning if He ever will come back. We are courted by suitors (the world) who voraciously consume our resouces and pressure us to be unfaithful. We may have some allies, but they are helpless against the overwhelming odds. Then, on a day and time least expected, our husband suddenly returns, enacting righteous judgment on the suitors, revealing Himself to his bride, and establishing peace.
While Odysseus is far from being a true Christ-figure, this story can encourage Christians to be faithful as we await our Savior’s homecoming. It will happen at a time and an hour least expected and we will rejoice at His revelation. Until then, we must remain steadfast in our commitment to Him.