Paul's letter to Philemon has always seemed rather strange to me, since it seems that Paul apparently accepted the use of this slave and he allowed that his Christians should own slaves. He seems to have written this letter about 5 years after he wrote his letter to the Galatians, and it is in that earlier letter that we read "All of you who have been baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with him. There does not exist among you Jew or Greek, slave or freeman, male or female." I sense a rather significant conflict between the two positions; is there something that I am missing about what Paul means?
But more important than how I understand that situation is the question of how I myself approach each person that I deal with in my daily comings and goings. Do I enslave other people? Maybe not in any obvious way, but I do treat people as objects, my servants to whom I pay no attention or offer no respect and to whom I allow no personhood. Does my interaction with them diminish them, relegate them to the status of mere physical functions, or is what I say and the way that I treat them respectful, truly present and calling to life?
Do I evaluate them only in terms of what they can do for me, or do I treat them as brothers and sisters that I am open to love and am eager to meet and welcome, even if only for a brief moment? Do I get to know the names of those I meet daily, do I discover their joys and sorrows, their successes and concerns, let them matter to me?
Jesus acted in that way, seeing and loving each of them, and He made Himself known to them, showed them His thoughts and His love, His very self. Can I try to imitate Jesus in this, aware that while I imitate as best I can I will never be his equal?
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