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Philemon 7-20
Psalm 146:7, 8-9a, 9bc-10
Luke 17:20-25

Today’s Epistle is the entire book of the Letter to Philemon, which I have always considered attractive and somewhat unattractive all at the same time. 

First a bit of context: The letter, though a mere 25 verses long, has been noted as worthy of inclusion because it was written in Paul’s own hand!  He writes from Rome where he is under perhaps some type of house arrest.  There he met Onesimus, a runaway slave of Philemon, a wealthy Christian from Colossus. While in Rome, Onesimus had become a convert to the faith, a friend and even considered “a dear brother” as Paul is sending him back to his owner Philemon.  In Paul’s thinking, Onesimus was morally bound to return.

At first glance, it appears that Paul is thereby upholding the institution of slavery.  I have not felt this to be a very noble way of proceeding. About damages Onesimus may owe Philemon, Paul requests, “Charge it to me.”

One of the commentaries that I read makes a comparison of God’s treatment of us as Christ pays with His life any debt that we, slaves to sin, may be owing.  Interesting point and worth a moment of prayer perhaps.

What may be worth more pondering is the choice of this Epistle for the feast of St. Albert the Great, the patron of scientists and teacher of St. Aquinas.  He is quoted as saying, “it is by the path of love, which is Charity, that God draws near to us, and we to God.” 

It comes full circle: Christ’s willingness to free us from slavery, surely primarily an Act of Love, St. Albert’s vision in seeing the connection of love to life—his of science and great knowledge, and in the Gospel, the prophecy of Jesus of the fulfillment of this in his “suffering and rejection.”

Where is the place of Love in our lives?  How is it the connection of God to us everyday?  What, if any, suffering and rejection do we experience in trying to live these connections?

By Maryanne Rouse

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