Today’s second reading is from the letter St. Paul writes to Philemon, a wealthy Colossian, and personal friend of Paul who had converted him to the faith. Paul likely wrote this letter the same time as he wrote to the Colossians from a prison house in Rome. He gave this letter to Onesimus (O-nis-see-mus) to deliver directly to Philemon. This would set the stage for what would have been a very awkward encounter! Onesimus was a slave of Philemon who had robbed his master and fled to Rome where he hoped to escape capture by disappearing into the large population. Providentially, he meets St. Paul who has compassion on him and wins him for Christ also. Paul sends him back to his master in Colossae with a letter to plead for him – not only to save him from a severe penalty, but to ask for him to be shown sympathy, affection, and Christian brotherhood. This slave is now returning with a new relationship to Philemon: both are now Christians, related in a way that not even death can undo. They are now both adopted children of God through baptism. It’s a beautiful example of Christian forgiveness. “Onesimus” means “profitable one” and Paul implies that this slave, now a Christian, will live up to his name. According to tradition Onesimus became bishop of Ephesus and suffered martyrdom in Rome about the same time as St. Ignatius of Antioch (AD 109-110).
In the Gospel, Jesus demands total dedication from His disciples. “If any one comes to me without hating his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple”. To be a true follower of Jesus, one must be willing to put the Lord above every relationship and possession. There is a cost to being a disciple of Jesus. Are we fully in?
By Deacon Dave Arms