March 18, 2021
by: Gabriel Tseng
I appeal to you for my son Onesimus, whom I fathered in my imprisonment, who previously was useless to you, but now is useful both to you and to me. I have sent him back to you in person, that is, sending my very heart, whom I wanted to keep with me, so that in your behalf he might be at my service in my imprisonment for the gospel; but I did not want to do anything without your consent, so that your goodness would not be, in effect, by compulsion, but of your own free will. For perhaps it wasfor this reason that he was separated from you for a while, that you would have him back forever, no longer as a slave, but more than a slave, a beloved brother, especially to me, but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord. – Philemon 1:10-16

As I ate my delicious corned beef and potatoes, I reflected on how the beauty of the gospel plays out in real life. It so often to me is an abstract thought far away that seems difficult to connect to my daily life. Perhaps the holiness of the ordinary, the changing of diapers or the washing of dishes and the beauty sleep we so desire, it can distract us to the beauty of God in the ordinary. I imagine burdens and words unspoken between people for years at a time and slowly losing touch amidst the busy lives of everyone. A fear of mine is always a sense of regret of not doing better, or doing more. Life can be riddled with guilt that colors my everyday. I wonder what I have my sights set on sometimes. 

I love that St. Patrick’s story of being kidnapped in be a slave in Ireland for 6 years, only to return to his captors to share with them the good news years later. I love the redemption story of leaving his troubles behind when he escaped, but what challenges me was God’s call for him to have the courage and love to go back to share that love with his captors. An amazing thing to now be remembered as the patron saint of the Irish. 

Reading Philemon, a short letter from Paul to escaped slave and master, it must have been incredibly foolish or incredibly courageous for Onesimus (the escaped slave) to return to Philemon, the seemingly Christian slave owner. I am amazed at this letter as you listen to the tones Paul uses to address Philemon while speaking of Onesimus. He has clear love for both in very different life circumstances with some seemingly difficult conversations ahead. The nature of discourse and those tough conversations that we so often avoid are bound up in this meeting with Paul seeking to make peace and reconcile the two. With numerous complexity of life in the balance, Paul’s appeals to both his brothers is heartfelt compassionate in the moment. He embodies what it looks like to be a peacemaker on the ground, in the grit and trenches of life. He does not “compel” them to obedience but rather appeals to their new nature as brothers. In this, it challenges and softens my heart to remember my primary calling as a son of God, the prodigal who has been received into the kingdom, both wayward and prideful, and saved at great cost to God. In this, my pride is often dispatched and it begins to make possible, extending that same grace and forgiveness to others, whom I may not have previously deemed worthy or deserving. 

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