Though St. Paul’s letter to Philemon consists of only twenty-five verses it touches on the core of his Gospel message. We are presented with a unique insight into the world of a Roman household as they wrestle with the status quo of the time, in terms of slavery, through the lens of Christianity. In this letter Paul is not afraid to use his Gospel capital in addressing the complex situation. Onesimus was a slave in the household of Philemon and is thought to be a runaway at the very least. Roman law requires a slave to be returned to their owner. Weaved through this story and presented by way of invitation are the opportunities to forgive; to be forgiven; to ask for mercy; to show mercy; to love. There are echoes of Paul’s letter to the Galatians (3:28) where he states clearly the concept of equality in-Christ for all. We are left guessing about Philemon’s response and wonder what decision might we have made? Slavery may not be what we deal with today yet, do we trap people in their past with our attitudes? Is Jesus asking me to be open to the person(s) whom he re-sends into my life? Might they be "his own heart"?
In Luke’s Gospel, this text containing apocalyptic language is unusual. It’s as if it doesn’t fit-so it gets our attention. Perhaps, this is Luke’s purpose-Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem. We hear from Jesus’ response that the Kingdom of God cannot be found in any one place but rather it is among us-even within us.
Jesus reminds us that the Son of Man will come only after he suffers. Jesus suffered-to set the captives free. Embedded in this text is the message of perseverance and hope amidst suffering. The Son of Man may not be found but the Kingdom of God is with us, so we do not listen to voices which may pull us away from our walk with God.
Jean Bowler is a retreatant at Mater Dolorosa Passionist Retreat Center in Sierra Madre, and a member of the Office of Mission Effectiveness Board of Holy Cross Province.