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OUR DEBTS OF LOVE

Father Francis's picture
Thirty-second Week in Ordinary Time

Philemon 7-20 & Lk. 17:20-25

During his imprisonment in Rome, Saint Paul wrote a short letter to a follower and friend named Philemon. He was a prosperous Gentile who converted to Christianity through Paul's preaching. As fate would have it, during Paul’s stay in Rome, he met and converted a runaway slave who had once belonged to Philemon. This ex-slave had become almost indispensable to Paul during his time of house arrest, serving Paul both as a housekeeper and as a friend.

In time Paul urged this former slave, named Onesimus, to return to his master's house. Onesimus had clearly broken the law in running away and he needed to make that situation right. So Paul sent an accompanying letter to Philemon urging him to receive Onesimus not as a runaway slave but as a new-found brother in Christ, insisting that Philemon owed him this one request. After all, Paul had brought Philemon into the circle of God's love through his preaching and teaching. The least Philemon could do was to extend that circle of love to include Onesimus.

Underlying Paul’s claim is a notion that people who receive love themselves owe a debt of love to others. Notice that Paul did not try to collect that debt of love for himself. He urged Philemon to repay the debt of love that he owed by giving love to Onesimus. Indeed Paul believed that the best way to repay a debt of love is to give your love to those who have no claim on your love. Only then is your giving of love free of all sense of coercion.

What can lightning tell us about the coming of the Lord and His kingdom? The Jews in Jesus' time were watching in great anticipation for some sign which would indicate when the Messiah would appear to establish the kingdom of God. The Pharisees' question on this matter was intended to test Jesus since they did not accept Him as the Messiah. Jesus surprised them with the answer that the kingdom of God was already here!

Jesus spoke of the coming of God's kingdom as both a present event and one which would be manifested at the end of time. The "Day of the Lord" was understood in the Old Testament as the time when God would manifest His glory and power, and overthrow the enemies of His people, Israel. The prophet Amos declared that it also meant judgment for Israel as well as the nations (Amos 5:18-20). The prophet Joel proclaimed that at this "Day of the Lord" those who truly repented would be saved, while those who remained enemies of the Lord, whether Jew or Gentile, would be punished (see Joel 2).

Why did Jesus associate lightning with the "Day of the Lord"? In the arid climate of Palestine, storms were infrequent and seasonal. They often appeared suddenly or unexpectedly, seemingly out of nowhere, covering everything in thick darkness. With little or no warning lightning filled the sky with its piercing flashes of flaming light. Its power struck terror and awe in those who tried to flee from its presence. Jesus warned the Pharisees that the "Son of man" would come in like manner, quite suddenly and unexpectedly, on the clouds of Heaven to bring God's judgement on the "Day of the Lord". No special sign will be needed to announce His appearance. Nor will His presence and power be veiled or hidden, but all will recognise Him as clearly as the lightning in the sky.

Lord Jesus Christ, may Your kingdom come and may Your will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven. Be the Ruler of our hearts and the Master of our lives that we may always live in the freedom of Your love and truth.

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