Philemon 9-10, 12-17; Luke 14: 25-33
Is this the world we desire? It was a reflection question posed at the Church’s Day of Prayer and Penance yesterday and what we continue this weekend in our prayer and pursuit of peace. Is this the world we desire? The day was to pray for peace in Syria and throughout the world, but an opportunity to reflect upon our own pursuit in our lives. We see so much violence but we also hear about national interest and national security but what about the fact that these are human lives that we are talking about? It’s sometimes easy for us to objectify the violence because we typically view it from a tv screen or through the internet, and it’s only when it impacts us personally can we often feel the weight of this culture of violence and death that has impacted our world from the beginning of time. Is this the world we desire for our children or our children’s children? Is it the world we desire for ourselves? It so often takes a change of mindset and culture in order to pursue peace.
It’s what Paul is trying to convey to Philemon in today’s second reading. It’s one of the few times we hear from the letter, one of the shortest in the New Testament. Onesimus, a slave of Philemon has escaped and finds himself with Paul. In the midst of their relationship Onesimus goes through his own conversion in life. He has always been a slave. He’s been the property of Philemon. It’s all that he knows himself as, someone who is less than human. He makes the transition from slave to freeman and not even returning to Philemon can take away his new identity in Christ. But Paul is going to plead to Philemon. As a slave that has escaped his “owner”, Onesimus risks death by Philemon. Paul wants to convey to Philemon that he is no longer slave int the same sense. Onesimus now sees himself as a brother of Paul and Paul wants to help Philemon see the same. Once there is this change of identity and change of mindset for them, a new relationship is established and it becomes increasingly less possible of objectifying and treating as less than another. Paul wants him to understand this relationship and pleads for Philemon to see Onesimus as a brother, to the point of Paul saying he is sending his own heart back to Philemon. This is the world that Paul desires, where others are seen as brothers and sisters.
The change of mindset is also what Jesus tries to send to the disciples and the crowd that follows. It seems at face value to be a rather harsh message, but he doesn’t tell us to hate anyone. What Jesus wants to break down is the familial relationship and to expand it beyond the biological family. Your brothers and sisters, mother and father, are more than the biological, they are the relationships we share as a human family. Your brothers and sisters are anyone that you encounter. They aren’t just people out there, keeping them at a distance, they are right here and within us.
Yes, we pray for peace this weekend in Middle East and beyond and we could pray for that peace every week, but we first must pray for that peace within ourselves and in our own hearts. We all participate in the culture of death and violence when we remain enslaved to our own sinfulness. It’s easy to objectify it on the screen or in other parts of our own community, but it is in us as well! If we don’t seek conversion as Onesimus does in his life, we too only see ourselves as slave. Through this conversion Onesimus’ eyes are opened and he begins to see in a new way. He no longer sees himself as slave, he no longer sees Philemon as “owner”, but rather makes that shift to brother of Paul. It’s the same conversion we are called to in our lives, to pursue the culture of life and love that our faith promotes. What is the world we desire? None of us wants to admit that we participate in the culture of death and violence, that’s only over there, in Syria. The reality is, it’s in us as well when we hold onto our hatred and bigotry, when we act violently and see others as less than, or when we objectify others, but we are more than that as well. We must choose life and love in order to break the cycle of violence and death, not only in other parts of the world, but in our own lives as well. Peace will come, but first by finding in me and finding it in you. With that, we become agents of change, agents of peace love and life to all our brothers and sisters in the human family.