I have received much joy and encouragement from your love, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you, my brother. For this reason, though I am bold enough in Christ to command you to do your duty, yet I would rather appeal to you on the basis of love, and I, Paul, do this as an old man, and now also as a prisoner of Christ Jesus. I am appealing to you for my child, Onesimus, whose father I have become during my imprisonment.
Formerly he was useless to you, but now he is indeed useful both to you and to me. I am sending him, that is, my own heart, back to you. I wanted to keep him with me, so that he might be of service to me in your place during my imprisonment for the gospel; but I preferred to do nothing without your consent, so that your good deed might be voluntary and not something forced. Perhaps this is the reason he was separated from you for a while, so that you might 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.
So if you consider me your partner, welcome him as you would welcome me. If he has wronged you in any way, or owes you anything, charge that to my account. I, Paul, am writing this with my own hand: I will repay it. I say nothing about your owing me even your own self. Yes, brother, let me have this benefit from you in the Lord! Refresh my heart in Christ.
My soul, give praise to the Lord;
I will praise the Lord all my days,
make music to my God while I live. (R./)
It is the Lord who keeps faith for ever,
who is just to those who are oppressed.
It is he who gives bread to the hungry,
the Lord, who sets prisoners free. (R./)
It is the Lord who gives sight to the blind,
who raises up those who are bowed down,
the Lord, who protects the stranger
and upholds the widow and orphan. (R./)
It is the Lord who loves the just
but thwarts the path of the wicked.
The Lord will reign for ever,
Zion's God, from age to age. (R./)
Once Jesus was asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God was coming, and he answered, "The kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed; nor will they say, 'Look, here it is!' or 'There it is!' For, in fact, the kingdom of God is among you."
Then he said to the disciples, "The days are coming when you will long to see one of the days of the Son of Man, and you will not see it. They will say to you, 'Look there!' or 'Look here!' Do not go, do not set off in pursuit. For as the lightning flashes and lights up the sky from one side to the other, so will the Son of Man be in his day. But first he must endure much suffering and be rejected by this generation.
The ties of love and friendship go beyond the letter of the law. In his letter, Paul calls Philemon a beloved friend and fellow worker, and he seems grateful for the kindness of his rich friend, because "through you the hearts of God's people have been refreshed."
We too can show others a love that refreshes and unites. With the grace of God we can come to regard each man or woman as our own kith and kin. If at first they seem as unlike us as the runaway slave was unlike his master Philemon, we can come to love and respect them as members of the human family. While Paul does not directly take issue with slavery, he sees that both master and slave have equal Christian dignity. His principle was "There is no longer ... slave nor free ... for all are one in Christ Jesus (Gal 3:28). Through the courage of the 18th century Quakers, this insight would eventually banish the scandal of slavery from the Christian world.
We can be impatient like the questioners of Jesus and press him for an answer, "When will the reign of God come?" He dismisses the question, when. The kingdom of God is not to be identified with a point of time; this is an important warning to those who try to predict the end of the world on such and such a day. Jesus also refuses to locate the reign of God "here" or "there." There is no particular, all-holy place where the kingdom must appear, in one country rather than another. Jesus' answer is baffling but also consoling: The reign of God is already in your midst. Intimately, personally rooted within us, is the kingdom of God, already begun in Jesus who dwells within us. In him we may already taste the sweetness of eternal life. Here we get the strength to be strong and loyal, for God's wisdom already lives in our hearts.
There is an Easter poem by Joseph Mary Plunkett which begins, 'I see his blood upon the rose and in the stars the glory of his eyes.' All nature reminded him of God. He had a keen eye, a spiritual eye for the diversity of God's creation. However, the Pharisees seemed to lack that keen eye. They wondered when the kingdom of God was to come, but were blind to the signs of God's work already being done among them. One of the great sayings of Jesus is that "the kingdom of God is among you,' referring to all that was happening in his own ministry, his words and actions. The lifegiving God was at work among them but many people could not see it, but felt threatened by the miracles of Jesus.
The presence of God continues among us in Our Lord, and through the Holy Spirit. What Paul calls the fruit of the Spirit is present in people's lives, the first fruit of the final harvest of the kingdom of God. We need the vision of faith (sensus fidei) to see signs of God's action among us, even in our own time and place, in a culture that seems hostile to faith.