Awoke this morning, made scrambled eggs and bacon and put the kettle on for tea as Lori and spent our early morning hours together. We read the Bible together. We prayed and we shared the Eucharist together.
10-14 While here in jail, I’ve fathered a child, so to speak. And here he is, hand-carrying this letter—Onesimus! He was useless to you before; now he’s useful to both of us. I’m sending him back to you, but it feels like I’m cutting off my right arm in doing so. I wanted in the worst way to keep him here as your stand-in to help out while I’m in jail for the Message. But I didn’t want to do anything behind your back, make you do a good deed that you hadn’t willingly agreed to.
15-16 Maybe it’s all for the best that you lost him for a while. You’re getting him back now for good—and no mere slave this time, but a true Christian brother! That’s what he was to me—he’ll be even more than that to you.
17-20 So if you still consider me a comrade-in-arms, welcome him back as you would me. If he damaged anything or owes you anything, chalk it up to my account. This is my personal signature—Paul—and I stand behind it. (I don’t need to remind you, do I, that you owe your very life to me?) Do me this big favor, friend. You’ll be doing it for Christ, but it will also do my heart good.
Reading this today, it stirred my heart to consider how we treat those among us who are “lesser” than ourselves, be it by their station in life, society’s standards for rank and file and penchant for categorizing people, or our own views about others.
Onesimus was a runaway slave. Philemon, his owner was a faithful follower of the way of Jesus. Paul knew Philemon and knew Onesimus. Onesimus had some kind of personal encounter with Christ, and so much so, that it affected his whole life and outlook on life, and as such had served Paul faithfully. All that transpired between Paul and Onesimus had to have been deep and profound and life transforming for both of them, for here we see Paul acting as an advocate on behalf of Onesimus, and in this personal letter to Philemon, Paul exhorts and encourages Philemon, by describing how faithful Onesimus had been to him, and calling on Philemon to take note of this as Philemon returns to him carrying this letter.
Paul recognized that Philemon, as the slave owner, and in this case, the owner of a runaway slave, the slave owner could even order the death of the runaway slave. Paul also realized by sending Onesimus to Philemon, he was doing the best to protect Onesimus, as the custom was to view the person carrying a letter to another, as a representative, an ambassador, of the one who wrote the letter. It was normative in Roman society to protect the letter bearer as if he or she represented the actual writer of the letter. Paul, in writing and presenting the letter and Onesimus is asking Philemon, whom he loves and respects greatly, to treat Onesimus with grace as it he was treating Paul himself.
I was moved by this today, to consider how I view people whom I meet and encounter and those whom I know more personally. Do I treat them as I desire to be treated? Do I entreat others who may go on my behalf to another, and expect them to be treated as well as I would hope to be treated? Have I acted in a way to smooth things out for another person, by being an advocate on their behalf between mutual acquaintances or friends? Am I willing to be a go-between or a mediator for those that need this kind of reconciliation?
Paul was putting into practice what he taught in 2 Corinthians 5 about the ministry of reconciliation. It is up to those of us, to me, to you, and others, to live out this ministry of mediation and reconciliation, to be a bridge that others can walk across, in order to be restored to God and restored in relationship with others. If we cannot do this for those in the faith already, how can we do this with those who have yet encounter Jesus Christ?
2 CORINTHIANS 5 [The Message]
11-14 That keeps us vigilant, you can be sure. It’s no light thing to know that we’ll all one day stand in that place of Judgment. That’s why we work urgently with everyone we meet to get them ready to face God. God alone knows how well we do this, but I hope you realize how much and deeply we care. We’re not saying this to make ourselves look good to you. We just thought it would make you feel good, proud even, that we’re on your side and not just nice to your face as so many people are. If I acted crazy, I did it for God; if I acted overly serious, I did it for you. Christ’s love has moved me to such extremes. His love has the first and last word in everything we do.
14-15 Our firm decision is to work from this focused center: One man died for everyone. That puts everyone in the same boat. He included everyone in his death so that everyone could also be included in his life, a resurrection life, a far better life than people ever lived on their own.
16-20 Because of this decision we don’t evaluate people by what they have or how they look. We looked at the Messiah that way once and got it all wrong, as you know. We certainly don’t look at him that way anymore. Now we look inside, and what we see is that anyone united with the Messiah gets a fresh start, is created new. The old life is gone; a new life burgeons! Look at it! All this comes from the God who settled the relationship between us and him, and then called us to settle our relationships with each other. God put the world square with himself through the Messiah, giving the world a fresh start by offering forgiveness of sins. God has given us the task of telling everyone what he is doing. We’re Christ’s representatives. God uses us to persuade men and women to drop their differences and enter into God’s work of making things right between them. We’re speaking for Christ himself now: Become friends with God; he’s already a friend with you.
21 How? you ask. In Christ. God put the wrong on him who never did anything wrong, so we could be put right with God.
Today, I glory in Christ Jesus, and how incredible He is and what He has done, and what He continues to do in my life and the lives of billions of people around the world.