Deuteronomy is a sort of sequel to the book of Exodus. It is presented as a final discourse between Moses and God’s people. There are a few chapters of review of God’s saving acts, followed by many chapters of the Law of Moses. These laws will define Israel, and set them Part from their neighbors. In the final chapters, like the one we read from today, Moses calls on the people to make a decision. Chose the God who saved you, and live by His rules, or chose another god. Chose Lord God Yahweh, and live. Any other choice is death. This message mirrors today’s Gospel lesson. Let’s summarize these two together.
Paul wrote this letter to the affluent Christian named Philemon. We know that he was well-off, because he was a slave owner. We’ll come back to that, but first, notice the other addressees mentioned in verse two, in particular Apphia. This was a Christian woman. In a society dominated by men, it is significant that a woman is mentioned.. The early churches were small, and met in peoples houses. This church met in one of these three’s house.
Paul is going to ask (or command!) Philemon to do something that is not something Philemon wants to do. It appears that Philemon expelled (or gave to Paul) one of his slaves named Onesimus. Something unpleasant happened between him and Philemon, but we do not get the details. Paul calls Onesimus “his child” (v. 10) and “my own heart” (v. 11). He calls on Philemon to embrace Onesimus not as a slave, but as a brother! (v. 16) He is told to welcome Onesimus as Philemon would welcome Paul. In other words, Philemon is asked (or commanded) to look upon Onesmius through the eyes of Christ, and not through human eyes.
We, too, are called upon to look at others through the eyes of Christ, rather than society’s lens. It should no longer matter if one is rich or homeless, black, white, Asian, etc. It isn’t always easy, but I’ll bet it wasn’t easy for Philemon, either.
Jesus has been preaching, teaching, and healing. He has acquired an enthusiastic following. People are excited, and want to see and hear more. It is time for a reality check. Jesus warns them that if they intend to follow him, it will come at great cost. They need to be prepared to give up everything. Especially at that time, if you decided to follow Jesus, it could mean severing ties with friends and family. It could cost you your job and social standing. Just like Moses, Jesus calls his followers to chose. Jesus calls his followers to not be distracted by outside influences like family or money matters. What matters most is following Jesus— putting God first. We call this the cost of discipleship.
OK, sure. We live in a generally Christian society, so most of us live in Christian families. But we have many other distractions that can draw us away from a total commitment to following Jesus.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
What are the things that pull you away from a solid relationship with God? How can you reduce or eliminate these influences?