15Nov 15 November. Thursday, Week 32

1st Reading: Philemon verses 7-20)

Philemon must welcome back his runaway slave, Onesimus

[Dear Philemon] 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.

Resp. Psalm (Ps 145)

R.: Blessed are they whose help is the God of Jacob

My soul, give praise to the Lord;
I will praise the Lord all my days,
make music to my God while I live. (R./)

It is the Lord who keeps faith for ever,
who is just to those who are oppressed.
It is he who gives bread to the hungry,
the Lord, who sets prisoners free. (R./)

It is the Lord who gives sight to the blind,
who raises up those who are bowed down,
the Lord, who protects the stranger
and upholds the widow and orphan. (R./)

It is the Lord who loves the just
but thwarts the path of the wicked.
The Lord will reign for ever,
Zion’s God, from age to age. (R./)


Gospel: Luke (17:20-25)

The reign of God is already here in our midst

One one occasion the Pharisees asked Jesus 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.


The kindness of strangers

The bonds of love and friendship go far beyond doing just what the law requires. In the first line of his letter, Paul calls Philemon a beloved friend and fellow worker, and expresses pleasure and satisfaction in the goodwill shown by his rich friend Philemon. He even states that “through you the hearts of God’s people have been refreshed.” We too are called to be loving in a way that refreshes and unites people, reaching out and respecting each man or woman as our own kith and kin. Some people may at first seem as alien to us as the runaway slave was to Philemon, but they could become closer to us if we are willing.

Some critics have taken issue with St Paul for not directly taking issue with slavery, which was a dark stain of injustice in Greco-Roman society. On the other hand, he clearly states elsewhere that in the Christian world-view (i.e. before God), slaves and free citizens have equal human dignity (Gal. 3:28)… “Among you there is no longer Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female; for all are one in Christ Jesus.” This insight would eventually do away with the scandal of slavery in the Christian world.

Like the impatient questioners of Jesus, we too might want to ask him, “When will the reign of God come?” But he immediately dismisses the question of when. The kingdom of God is not to be identified with a specific point of time. This is a 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 priveleged, all-holy place where the kingdom must appear, in one shrine or country rather than another. This answer is baffling but also enriching: “The reign of God is already in your midst.” The kingdom is intimately, personally rooted within us, already begun in Jesus who dwells within us. In him we already have a foretaste of eternal life. Here we get the strength to be loyal and seek what is right, for God’s wisdom already lives in our hearts.

The kingdom among you

There is an Easter poem by Joseph Mary Plunkett which begins, ‘I see his blood upon the rose and in the stars the glory of his eyes.’ All of nature spoke to him of Jesus, whom he recognized in the wonder and diversity of God’s creation. He had a keen eye for the spiritual hidden in the material world. The Pharisees seemed to lack that spiritual vision. They asked Jesus when the kingdom of God was to come, but were blind to the signs of God’s kingdom already present to them. Jesus told them, ‘the kingdom of God is among you,’ referring to all that was happening in his ministry, all that he was saying and doing.

Although the God of life was powerfully at work in the ministry of Jesus, many around him could not see that; rather, they felt threatened by him. The God of life continues to work powerfully among us in and through the risen Lord, by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. What Paul calls ‘fruit of the Spirit’ is there to be observed in people’s lives, the first fruit of the final harvest of the kingdom of God. We need eyes of faith to see the signs of the kingdom in our midst. We come before the Lord in our blindness, asking him to help us to see.


(Saint Albert the Great, bishop and doctor of the Church)

Albertus Magnus (c. 1200-1280), was a German Dominican, who lectured in Cologne, Regensburg, Freiburg and Strasbourg; among his students was Thomas Aquinas, whos orthodoxy Albert defended against his critics. In 1260 Pope Alexander IV made him Bishop of Regensburg, but after 3 years Albert returned to his ministry of teaching. Contemporaries such as Roger Bacon applied the term “Magnus” to him during his own lifetime, honouring to his reputation as a scholar and philosopher.

One Response

  1. Joe O'Leary

    These readings draw some very inadequate comments from preachers:

    “It’s later than you thnk; make sure you get your work done.”

    “Get your books in order; the Lord is coming to inspect them.”

    What’s behind this is our culture of careerism and a cult of individual success.

    First we need to overcome this individualism. We should strive for the success of others, not our own. We work for the Kingdom of God as a community, not as competing individuals. As Charles Péguy said, “it is together that we go to Heaven or to Hell.”

    And there is still a lot of crass literalism in the way people talk about the Kingdom. It is here and now that the Kingdom is growing in our midst. The language of eschatology is highly coloured mythical language and to discern its effective meaning now we need to focus on present realities. To live fully in the present is the best way to prepare the future. To speculate about the unknowable future is the best way to lose present grace.

    The Gospel gives us a global reassuring message, that the future is in God’s hands and He leads all things to their heavenly goal. The souls (saints) who have gone before us remain part of the great communal advance of the people of God toward that goal. Let’s leave the details in the hands of God. More trust, less anxious calculation.

    We devote more energy to worrying about our own success than to what we can contribute to the Kingdom. One of the first message of Jesus is: Purify your motives; Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness (Mt 6:33).

    That change of perspective from self-obsessed anxiety to the broad and joyful and communal and trustful search for the Kingdom is what we should be preaching, rather than reforce habitual attitudes that are not Christian at all.

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