Philemon 1-21 (Actually the whole bookâ€¦) â€“ The 16th Sunday of Ordinary Time â€“ for Sunday, September 8, 2013
“I am appealing to you for my child, Onesimus, whose father I have become during my imprisonment.” (Philemon – vs. 10)
(This reflection was first written in August, of 2010, but Iâ€™ve revised it as a â€œtime saver.â€ Currently Iâ€™m with my mother in her skilled nursing room in Sacramento. She is non-responsive, in the final stages of dying from cancer. I would welcome your prayers for her, for my family.)
Like driving through a small town on a rural highway, you could blink your eyes and miss Philemon. Itâ€™s a briefer than brief letter in the Christian Testament, squeezed between Titus and Hebrews. It can be readâ€”even if the reader repeats a few sentences or stumbles over pronunciationâ€”during a quick coffee break. Itâ€™s the shortest book in the Bible and the only existing personal correspondence we have from Saul who became Paul.
Eleven names appear in the full 25 verses: Paul, Timothy, Philemon, Apphia, Archippus, Epaphras, Mark, Aristarchus, Demas and Luke. Onesimus, the eleventh name and the letterâ€™s subject, was written a single time in the noteâ€™s 335 Greek words. He was a runaway slave befriended by Paul. The apostle advocated for a change in the master-slave relationship to his friend Philemon (and Onesimusâ€™ owner): â€œWelcome him as you would welcome me.â€
Paulâ€™s letter to Philemon reminds me of how I requested money from my parents during college. In those pre-Internet missals, Iâ€™d share how much I loved them and highlight a few recent events (like an upcoming test or an embarrassing thing my roommate did) and then Iâ€™d casually mention I might need a couple of extra bucks. When reading Philemon, I admire its sincerity, tenderness . . . and cleverness. Philemon, perhaps like my parents, will easily discern heâ€™s being â€œwooedâ€ by his good buddy Paul. Continue reading →