Day 351 – Tuesday, December 17: Philemon
There is no way to skirt around this. There is no hiding the obvious. There is no easy way to hide the fact that in order to read and understand Philemon we are going to have to deal with slavery.
Now that that is out of the way, let me add, I am not a proponent of slavery. It is an unfortunate dark stain in the history of our country, and a horrible reflection of the world especially in our ability to mutually care and respect one another. It saddens me that in some circles and black markets of the world slavery and indentured servant-hood still exists. As a basic God given gift, we were all created equal in God’s image, and we all should be working hard to end what should have ended years ago.
That being said, in order to understand Paul’s urgency in writing Philemon, we have to ask the question, “If you were a slave owner, and one of your slaves ran away, who may have physically stolen or harmed you in some way shape or form in their flight, what would you do upon their return?” Not an easy question to ask. Not an easy question an answer, and chances are if we were going to answer truthfully, we probably wouldn’t be overly kind to them upon their return.
With that mindset, we now insert Paul’s letter. Treat him as a “beloved brother” (v. 16) for I have become like a “father” (v. 10) to him, and he is one with us “in the flesh and in the Lord.” (v. 16) Ahh . . . great words. You can only wonder if they worked. I pray that Onesimus was welcomed as warmly as Paul encourages Philemon to act. Paul then goes on to promise to repay Philemon for any “wrongs” that Onesimus has done, and to ready a guest room for Paul is soon to visit.
For me, this is one of those letters that makes you want more. What happened next? What is the story beyond the story? We do know that Onesimus plays a roll throughout Paul’s travels and is referred to several different times. So he’s a key part of the growth of the early church. More importantly, this letter reminds us, that we are all created one in the eyes of God. We are all called to treat one another as sisters and brothers in faith. As Paul writes in Galatians, no longer are we defined as slave or free, male or female, young or old. Or as the children’s song would have us sing, “red, yellow, black, white, we are precious in his sight. Jesus loves the little children of the world.”
Even as we begin a new year, may you remember to love all God’s children, as God loves us!