The second reading at Mass yesterday, the 23rd Sunday of Ordinary Time, was taken from the shortest and most immediately personal of Paul’s Letters in the New Testament, the Letter to Philemon.
This is Paul writing, an old man now and, what is more, still a prisoner of Christ Jesus. I am appealing to you for a child of mine, whose father I became while wearing these chains: I mean Onesimus. I am sending him back to you, and with him – I could say – a part of my own self. I should have liked to keep him with me; he could have been a substitute for you, to help me while I am in the chains that the Good News has brought me.
However, I did not want to do anything without your consent; it would have been forcing your act of kindness, which should be spontaneous. I know you have been deprived of Onesimus for a time, but it was only so that you could have him back for ever, not as a slave any more, but something much better than a slave, a dear brother; especially dear to me, but how much more to you, as a blood-brother as well as a brother in the Lord. So if all that we have in common means anything to you, welcome him as you would me.
There is a comfortable intimacy and ease about the letter. Paul knows that he is asking something exceptional of Philemon, but also is able to rely on the fact that Philemon will be up to the exceptional, if he is true to his faith, to the Good News, to the love of God.
Paul’s own courtesy and gentleness to his friend will serve as the silver to the mirror he holds up to Philemon. ‘This is what is asked of us as brothers in the Lord.’
The way of love is never without its challenges. But it is a way paved by grace.
- How today will you show God’s love?
- What hurt might you forgive? What resentment let go of?
Mosaic floor from Church of Paul’s martyrdom at Tre Fontane outside Rome. (c) 2014.