November 12, 2020
by Mike Cherney
Creighton University's Physics Department
click here for photo and information about the writer

Memorial of Saint Josaphat, Bishop and Martyr
Lectionary: 494

Philemon 1:7-20
Psalm 146:7, 8-9, 9-10
Luke 17:20-25

Praying Ordinary Time

I see Paul’s letter as a plea for compassion for a runaway slave, the Psalm as a recognition of the graces bestowed by God, and in the Gospel, Jesus responding to the Pharisees’ question about the coming of the Kingdom.

The world is a very small place. I can remember a chance meeting with a family of our Omaha neighbors on a bridge in Switzerland. I can also recall while I was walking through a park in Poland stumbling upon two acquaintances from the United States who were having a clandestine rendezvous. I can think of a dozen stories of unexpected crossings of paths.

Today’s first reading brought these stories to mind. Onesimus, a slave who has run away from Philemon, encounters Paul. The “it’s a small world” part of the story is that Philemon is a Christian well known to Paul. Philemon lived in present-day Turkey, while Paul was in present-day Italy at the time. Paul became responsible for Onesimus’ conversion. It seems that today’s epistle is an excerpt from a cover letter for Onesimus’ voluntary return.

Today’s readings left me confused. Is Onesimus returning as a slave of Philemon? What role in the Church would he take on after his return to Colossae? Looking to biblical scholars, I find disagreement. Moving on to the Gospel, I find similar differences of opinions, even arguing between translating the text as “the Kingdom of God is among you” and as “the Kingdom of God is within you.” Was Jesus saying that the Kingdom of God is within the hearts of men? Was He saying that the Kingdom of God is at hand? Or was He saying that the Kingdom of God was being made manifest in Him?

I feel that I am left to my own personal reflection. If I envisage myself in the presence of Paul and Onesimus, I picture Paul treating Onesimus as any other brother in the faith. I see Paul as didactic and committed to his cause. Himself confined to prison, he missions Onesimus to return and serve his community as someone no longer on the run. If I imagine myself near Jesus, I notice that I am standing next to Jesus rather than sitting at His feet. The crowd of Pharisees makes me nervous. I am more ready for action than passive listening. I am feeling that Jesus has intentionally given an ambiguous answer. I sense the Kingdom within as a call to action.

I recall that earlier in the Gospel of Luke, Jesus has described the Kingdom of God as being like a mustard seed or like yeast. In both cases it is something small that leads to a remarkable transformation. My prayer today focusses on the mission that follows from transforming grace.

Heavenly Father,
This year has been and continues to be a time unlike others.
Allow me to see your presence in the people and settings that I experience.
Help me to recognize your graces in the midst of a changing order.
Grant me the resilience to respond to your calls to service in this unsettled period.

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mcherney@creighton.edu

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