In our fascinating second lesson for this Sunday, we hear words from a letter in our New Testament called Philemon.
[A quick aside: How do you say that name–is it Fi-LEE-Mon? Or FIL-e-mon? Answer: either one is fine.]
More important than pronunciation are the concepts in the letter. It is a rare glimpse at a very personal exchange between St Paul and his friend Philemon about a slave Onesimus (another name to sound out) that has left Philemon’s houshold. He is appealing to Philemon to receive Onesimus back, and even asking that Philemon go beyond the slave-master relationship to one of brothers (Phil16).
Paul says, “For this reason, though I am bold enough in Christ to command you to do your duty, yet I would rather appeal to you on the basis of love–and I, Paul, do this as an old man, and now also as a prisoner of Christ Jesus.” (Phil 8-9).
Paul is telling Philemon he could force him, but he won’t: he appeals to him on the basis of love to do the right thing. And isn’t this the New Testament ethic in a nutshell? A whole new tactic, where obedience is never forced, but always demonstrated. It is whole new system, where slave and master disparities take a backseat to brother- and sister-hood.
Christ Jesus, may the obedience you first demonstrated transform all of our relationships. Amen.