15 November. Thursday of Week Thirty Two
Phlm 7ff. Philemon must welcome back his runaway slave Onesimus.
Lk 17:20ff. The reign of God is already in our midst.
Refreshed by Love
According to the letter to Philemon the bond of love goes far beyond the letter of the law. In the introduction, Paul calls Philemon “our beloved friend and fellow worker,” and in today’s first sentence he expresses his joy and comfort in his rich friend’s love, “because through you the hearts of God’s people have been refreshed.”
We in turn are called to a love that refreshes and unites, and to reach out so as to find each man and woman our brother and our sister, our “joy and comfort.” Another person may seem as distant from us as a runaway slave and yet become like a neighbour to us. In passing we should note that Paul does not directly take issue with slavery, but indirectly supplies the data that eventually made church and society realize how grossly unjust it was. For instance, Jesus was equal to God yet willing “to empty himself and take the form of a slave” (Phil 2:7). And therefore, “All of you who have been baptized into Christ are clothed in him. So among you there is no longer Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female. All are one in Christ Jesus (Gal 3:27-28). It is the inner bond of faith and love, of respect and honour that heals the social injustices of slavery and enables each us to integrate our proper bonds with others.
We can be impatient and like the questioners, press Jesus for an answer, “When will the reign of God come?” In replying, he immediately dismisses the question, when. The kingdom of God is not to be identified with a point of time; this is an important warning to those who try to predict the end of the world on such and such a day. Jesus also refuses to locate the reign of God “here” or “there.” There is no particular, all-holy place where the kingdom must appear, in one country rather than another. Jesus’ answer is baffling but also consoling: The reign of God is already in your midst.
Intimately, personally rooted within us, is the kingdom of God, already begun in Jesus who dwells within us. In him we may already taste the sweetness of eternal life. Here we get the strength to be strong and loyal, for God’s wisdom already lives in our hearts.
First Reading: Philemon vs 7-20
I have indeed received much joy and encouragement from your love, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you, my brother.
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. I am appealing to you for my child, Onesimus, whose father I have become during my imprisonment.
Formerly he was useless to you, but now he is indeed useful both to you and to me. I am sending him, that is, my own heart, back to you. I wanted to keep him with me, so that he might be of service to me in your place during my imprisonment for the gospel; but I preferred to do nothing without your consent, in order that your good deed might be voluntary and not something forced. Perhaps this is the reason he was separated from you for a while, so that you might have him back forever, no longer as a slave but more than a slave, a beloved brother – especially to me but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord.
So if you consider me your partner, welcome him as you would welcome me. If he has wronged you in any way, or owes you anything, charge that to my account. I, Paul, am writing this with my own hand: I will repay it. I say nothing about your owing me even your own self. Yes, brother, let me have this benefit from you in the Lord! Refresh my heart in Christ. Confident of your obedience, I am writing to you, knowing that you will do even more than I say.
Gospel: Luke 17:20-25
Once Jesus was asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God was coming, and he answered, “The kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed; nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There it is!’ For, in fact, the kingdom of God is among you.”
Then he said to the disciples, “The days are coming when you will long to see one of the days of the Son of Man, and you will not see it. They will say to you, ‘Look there!’ or ‘Look here!’ Do not go, do not set off in pursuit. For as the lightning flashes and lights up the sky from one side to the other, so will the Son of Man be in his day. But first he must endure much suffering and be rejected by this generation.