06 Sep Friday
The more I think about the Letter to Philemon, the more I realize the complexity of the relationships and meaning of the text when I think about it in terms of our own cultural moment. The text is at once a launching point for a modern discussion of human trafficking and slavery, but is also a text about the church.
From the Gospel of John’s Last Supper, I am reminded of the saying of Jesus, “I no longer call you slaves, but friends.” The shared table is a key concept underlying the text, the Eucharist. We are in communion with one another. Forming that community and sustaining it are the tasks of the church today. So often I hear that the church should shrink to be more pure; this direction seems to me a Pharisaical bent, and further, a sign of an exclusionary arrogance. We are justified by our charity, not by our ritual purity. We ought to be useful to one another and to God, and as Paul points out, because of charity.
It stretches my heart to know that my brothers and sisters include such people: the refugee, the immigrant, the enslaved and on and on. These people are not comfortable people, but they require us to reframe our whole mental landscape. They challenge us. The border is so far away, and are all the images true and I don’t want to see.
Paul imposes upon Philemon is an outrageous way, that in a slave based cultural wold be unthinkable. So, today they impose on us, whether we like it or not.