"Jesus said love one another. He didn't say love the whole world.” — Mother Teresa
"We, the unwilling, led by the unknowing, are doing the impossible for the ungrateful. We have done so much, for so long, with so little, we are now qualified to do anything with nothing.” — Mother Teresa
It was a quite night at Philemon’s house. Not a creature was stirring, except maybe Philemon. The death and life of Onesimus was in his hands, and even if the choice was life, he, Philemon, could make that life mighty miserable for Onesimus. What would he do?
More importantly: Why would he do it? Why would anyone give up his rights, his property, his honor, his leisure and life? For Onesimus? For Paul? What is Onesimus? What is Paul?
What is Philemon? What a wicket prayer this is: “I pray that the sharing of your faith may become effective when you perceive all the good that we may do for Christ.” Philemon 6 What an expensive prayer for him who has received it. How will he become so big a soul to do what Paul suggests or worse, to do what Jesus suggests?
Many are invited to the wedding feast of the kingdom but few, suggests Jesus, are willing to come. (Lk14:15-24) They will not taste of the king’s feast and if the parable in Lk14:15-24 is right, it will be their choice and their commitment to the things of today, the things of this world, the ways of this world, and the peace with this world that will guide their decisions not to sit down at the blessed feast. It is a step back from being the least at table. It is stepping away from the table all together for reasons that sound good and valid.
And what a crumby choice it is. Sitting at the low end. Ignoring a new field. Leaving the training of oxen to another week. Ignoring a new wife and therefore the children, the family that she will be the matriarch of and that will be both husband and wife’s security in old age. Doing any of these puts many tomorrows in jeopardy. Forgiving a slave who has run away, put the whole house’s honor and means of making a living, even surviving, in jeopardy.
So, on a roof in Ephesus sat one Philemon. He has been invited to the wedding feast and now he is contemplating the cost. Will he have enough poise to withstand the ridicule that will come his way? Will his house suffer? Will it stand? Is there enough faith in that heart of his to do this? Is that heart of his large enough to find and to love the will of God and then, because he loves God, to do it? It is not about Paul or Onesimus: It is about Philemon and his entire house who will, with him, suffer the consequences of his choice. Does he “hate” them enough to love the will of God and the sacrifice of Christ that were the Genesis of his, and Onesimus’, baptism?
When salt is no longer “salty,” when it no longer acts as the thing that makes the oven burn, the fire that Jesus longed to ignite on earth (12:49), it is thrown out (14:34-35). But before Philemon is another possibility: Will he throw himself out for not being “salty” enough? The downside of hearing and celebrating the stories of the triumphs of the saints is that we sit on rooftops and feel insufficient in the life of faith. We give up the struggle too early and thereby throw out the salt, ourselves, ourselves. (What odd grammar!)
This is not a reflection about those who take the faith superficially in the first place. They have already heard that having faith has demands and they have subtly made other arrangements. Their oxen are being trained. Their fields are being sown, tended, reaped and stored in storehouses. Their futures are secure in their children. Those arrangements will be shattered. (Lk 12:13ff)
This is really a reflection that asks those who struggle with the faith and have their nights on rooftops. Somewhere in Ephesus, the church has by now read Paul’s letter that Onesimus has carried on his way to an uncertain home. They are up as well. They are praying for Philemon and Onesimus. And you: Who is praying that your faith may become effective when you perceive all the good that we may do for Christ? Who is praying that your heart may, in faith, grow large enough to hear the invitation of God? Are you praying that you might perceive the will of God and have the resolve to do it? Do you dare? Will you sit with the least and be at home as if it was your house because it actually is your house because you are a child of the Father? Is your house your real “house” or is there more to you and your baptism?
Onesimus and Ephesus await your answer.