It is glorious to witness people putting into action what they believe. I find it convincing beyond measure to see someone back up words with action. This short letter provides just such a view. We see firsthand that Paul the preacher of the faith is also Paul the practitioner of the faith. Paul writes to his friend Philemon and appeals openly to him to receive the slave Onesimus back not as a slave but as a brother. To speak up and advocate on behalf of a slave and plead for a Christian response that differs from the one culture would dictate seems nothing short of revolutionary. At every level, Paul embodies the essence of the gospel of Jesus Christ as he writes this passionate letter to Philemon.
At this point, the decisions of discipleship come together. When we decide to speak and act on behalf of those who have been marginalized and maligned; those who have been systematically excluded and exited from our culture; those who are left out, left behind, and left alone, we are deciding to live out our discipleship. We become living reflections of the Christ who reflected God’s love to all.
The letter to Philemon contains the pattern of this kind of radical discipleship. The decision to speak and act for those who have little or no voice involves interceding on their behalf in prayer and in practice, intervening to seek change in attitudes and actions, and intersecting all those involved with the gospel of Jesus Christ. An intersection always takes the shape of a cross. Paul lived the cross and called on Philemon to do the same. Now the call comes to us.
Lord God, move in my life so that my faith in you will make me bold to speak and act in love for all people. Amen.
The Gospel lesson stresses the cost of disci- pleship. One of the costs involves family, but the implication is that there are compensations as well as costs. Belonging to God affects the way in which one belongs to others. Traditional pat- terns, kinship and otherwise, are transformed. This insight lies at the heart of Paul’s letter to Philemon concerning Philemon’s slave, Onesimus. Without directly requesting that Philemon set Onesimus free, Paul clearly suggests that the ties that bind per- sons as brothers and sisters in Christ transform traditional social patterns, including slavery. Both Jeremiah 18 and Psalm 139 af rm our belongingness to God, individually and corporately.
• Read Jeremiah 18:1-11. How has the “word of the Lord” come to you? What obstacles prevent you from placing your- self entirely in God’s hands?
• Read Psalm 139:1-6, 13-18. How does your life evidence God’s handiwork?
• Read Philemon 1-21. What person or group needs your advocacy in the name of Christ?
• Read Luke 14:25-33. How have you counted the cost of fol- lowing Jesus?
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