This is my homily for Sunday 5 September 2010, 23rd Sunday for the on-campus Sudnay Mass (7:30 p.m.) of Fairleigh Dickinson University (FDU) Teaneck, NJ. Mass is every Sunday during Fall 2010 + Spring 2011 semesters.I am the Catholic campus minister for this campus and for the FDU Newman Catholic Association. Please see my profile below.
READINGS: Wisdom 9:13-18b | Psalm 90 | Philemon 9-10, 12-17 | Luke 14:25-33
[_01_] An envelope is sent home.
This is one way teachers capture our attention. Sending an envelope home will command the attention of both the parent and the child/student.
Paul’s letter, our second reading, the letter to Philemon, bears a resemblance to the report card -- or the note sent home by the teacher. An evaluation is being offered – by Paul – not only for the “child/student” but also, we might say to the “parent/guardian”.
And, Philemon is the guardian. Philemon is homeowner, the addressee of the letter. The letter is addressed personally to him.
This letter to Philemon differs from some of the other New Testament letters. In these, Paul typically addresses all of the Corinthians of Corinth, or all of the Philippians of Philippi.
And, in those cases, we are called to apply the general message personally to our lives.
[_02_] But, here we have a letter which arrives individually in Philemon’s mailbox. And, he might be surprised that people are still reading his mail this many years later.
The letter pertains to Onesimus, his slave.
Paul is sending a personal note home from jail, from prison. Paul remains there and Onesimus is being released, released back to Philemon his owner.
Philemon receives the letter.
And, the letter challenges Philemon, challenges him as a slave owner and as a Christian to treat his slave with care, respect, dignity.
Here, we see a development in the early Church in the attitude toward slavery.
Paul is not trying to upend the social order and abolish slavery. Rather, he is appealing to one particular slave owner.
Paul reminds Philemon that we are all one in the Body and the Blood of Christ. We are called to take care of each other, even those we might be tempted to scorn or to mock.
[_03_] Paul is warm and generous toward Onesimus in prison. Paul is in prison. However, though an inmate himself with Onesimus, Paul has a social status greater than that of Onesimus. Paul is a Roman citizen; Onesimus is not.
Paul is in this prison because he asserted his right to a trial in Rome.
Paul’s own legal trouble began back in Palestine where was recognized as one who was preaching the Christian gospel. Some of the Jewish leaders wanted him detained, arrested, scourged, even executed.
Paul – as a Roman citizen – asserted his rights not only to a change in venue. That is, Paul wanted a trial in Rome, the capital of the empire. Paul is “extradited” back to Rome for trial and lands in prison there. It is in this prison that he meets and befriends Onesimus, the runaway slave.
[_04__] And Paul tells Philemon,
“[I send Onesimus] no longer as a slave, [but rather] a brother.”
So, Paul is saying that as a Roman citizen, he has a responsibility even to a slave.
And, we have a responsibility also.
As high school (college) seniors, responsibility to the freshman; as teachers, to students; as parents, responsibility to children; as Americans, to responsibility immigrants and to those new in our country; as bosses responsibility to workers (every day is Labor Day); as adult children responsibility also to parents with special needs.
[_05_] Paul treats the slave Onesimus with love, respect in prison.
And, he sends a person letter inviting Philemon to the same.
It is a letter with a first-class stamp, a personal appeal. And, these are the letters, the notes sent home that we find difficult to ignore. [_end_]