Social Justice

Beloved:
I have experienced much joy and encouragement from your love,
because the hearts of the holy ones
have been refreshed by you, brother.
Therefore, although I have the full right in Christ
to order you to do what is proper,
I rather urge you out of love,
being as I am, Paul, an old man,
and now also a prisoner for Christ Jesus.
I urge you on behalf of my child Onesimus,
whose father I have become in my imprisonment,
who was once useless to you but is now useful to both you and me.
I am sending him, that is, my own heart, back to you.
I should have liked to retain him for myself,
so that he might serve me on your behalf
in my imprisonment for the Gospel,
but I did not want to do anything without your consent,
so that the good you do might not be forced but voluntary.
Perhaps this is why he was away from you for a while,
that you might have him back forever,
no longer as a slave but more than a slave, a brother,
beloved especially to me, but even more so to you,
as a man and in the Lord.
So if you regard me as a partner, welcome him as you would me.
And if he has done you any injustice
or owes you anything, charge it to me.
I, Paul, write this in my own hand: I will pay.
May I not tell you that you owe me your very self.
Yes, brother, may I profit from you in the Lord.
Refresh my heart in Christ.
(Philemon 1:7-20)  

 

Scripture Study

no longer as a slave: Philemon is faced with a dilemma. As a slave owner, he is entitled by law to punish the returning Onesimus to the fullest extent (death). As a Christian, however, he must acknowledge that the recent conversion of Onesimus has put him and his slave on an equal footing in the eyes of God (Gal 3:28). In Paul’s mind, there is only one recommended option: Philemon must embrace Onesimus as his brother in the faith, forgive him his wrongdoing, and give him his freedom. Christ has made them brothers, and this creates a new situation that overrides the social and legal expectations that would normally apply when a delinquent slave returned to his owner. These men were once members of the same household, with one in authority over the other; but now they are children of equal standing in the household of God the Father (Philem 3). This is one example of how Paul, who never condemned the institution of slavery directly, worked against it with the gospel (CCC 2414). (St. Jerome, Commentary on Philemon on Philem 15).[1]

Reflection

“Perhaps this is why he was away from you for a while, that you might have him back forever, no longer as a slave but more than a slave, a brother, beloved especially to me, but even more so to you, as a man and in the Lord.

Sometimes evil circumstances become an occasion for good, and God turns the evil plans of men toward a righteous end. If Onesimus had not fled his master, he would not have come to Paul in prison and there received faith in Christ.

Our modern world rightfully acknowledges slavery as abhorrent. We struggle with the idea that mankind could treat another human being in this manner. But many also struggle with what they read in scripture about slavery as it often seems to condone this practice by failing to condemn it.

This is a struggle for many people to accept Christianity or the idea of God. Why God would allow this type of inhuman behavior to occur. Scripture has told us that God’s ways are not ours and his thoughts are not our thoughts (Is 55:8). So are we capable of trusting God when we do not understand why injustice occurs?

Every Christian, insofar as we can, should contribute to bringing about social justice by living out the example of Christ. He trusted the Father in all things and created change in the world through his lived life of love of the Father and his neighbor. Can we do any less?

May the virtues of faith, hope, and love go with you today – DV.

 

 

CCC Catechism of the Catholic Church
[1] The Ignatius Catholic Study Bible: The New Testament (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2010), 411.