In second Timothy, Paul refers to someone named Demas. His statement is brief but rather damning. He says, “Demas, because he loved this world, has deserted me…”
I’ve always found this passage quite disturbing. I’ve done so because, in two other letters (Colossians and Philemon), he refers to Demas as a co-worker. These two letters were written while Paul was incarcerated. That means Demas stood by him through times of imprisonment. While I’ve never served a prison sentence (or even a night in jail), I think I would be forever grateful to such a cohort. It had to be a difficult time. Jesus doesn’t urge us to visit the imprisoned with no reason.
“Paul throws Demas under the bus…”
Yet in his letter to Timothy, Paul throws Demas under the bus (or chariot as it were). To be fair, it’s apparent Paul feels abandoned by Demas, so maybe turnabout is fair play—even when you’re writing the Bible. (I know. He didn’t realize he was writing the Bible. Still, it was written to a pastor. We all know how those guys can blab.)
There’s no real background given, so it’s tough to tell exactly what’s transpiring. Yet, the tone of his remark almost makes it sound like Paul has written Demas off. I would love to see Demas’ reply in his ensuing Biblical Op-Ed. Unfortunately, there was no such thing. I’m guessing he had his reasons for leaving. Prison ministry burnout may have been one of them. The call of “the world” must have been very alluring at that point. Whatever the reason(s), in Paul’s mind, Demas was gone.
“We never hear of Demas again.”
In fairness to Paul, this was written toward the end of his life. Time was winding down, and he was trying to fulfill his final quest. Seeing a formerly willing assistant go off the reservation must have been disheartening. Consequently, we never hear of Demas again.
This morning, I was reminded of this story in an odd way. I cooked some scrambled eggs for breakfast. While pushing them onto my plate, one decent sized chunk hit the floor. I immediately thought to myself, “Five-second rule.” If I pick it up within five seconds, I can eat it. We all know that germs don’t attack food in the first five seconds. Presumably, after five seconds, all hell breaks loose and we’ll die of dysentery should we devour it. The fact that this reminded me of Demas might tell you something about how my mind works.
What I’m driving at is the sad reality that we Christians are often quick to throw our brethren to the lions (particularly if they don’t act in accordance with our wishes). We seem to have some sort of five-second rule that allows us to cast them off like fallen scrambled eggs.
Considering who Paul was, that puts us in good company. Still, even Paul knew he was “a wretched man.” In the future, maybe we should allow God do sainthood reductions. He’s got the facts. After all, he’s God and we’re not.
[Dave Zuchelli is a graduate of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and is currently the pastor of Smith Chapel, in Great Falls, VA.]