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Archive for September 9th, 2010

Philemon 11

(Formerly he was useless to you, but now he is indeed useful to you and to me.)

“Oh, he’s useless…no good.”  “What a useless waste of time!”  “It’s useless.  I give up!”  At one time or another we have all said something like that and it is a word of judgment, of law: a judgment of others or of our selves. It appears that in the  house and home of Philemon, Onesimus was useless.  We are not told in what ways he was useless as a slave.  Not obedient?  Slothful?  He had talents and abilities he did not use?   Maybe he did alot of, well, “brown-nosing”?  We do not know.  But he was useless.  We do not know why Onesimus ran away.  A conjecture:  like Jonah, the Lord caught up to Jonah as Jonah ran away and Onesimus’ uselessness was catching up to him as he ran away and the Lord found him in a jail…with His Apostle!  Then what a conversation Onesimus and the Apostle had in jail!   The  Apostle Paul knew Luke’s Gospel full well…after all, in Acts, Luke has sections in which he reports  he was there with Paul.  And at the end of Philemon, notice who else is with Paul in Rome! (verse 24)  The Apostle knew the Lord’s command:   “Thus it is written that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that  repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.  You are witnesses of these things.”  (Luke 24:  46-48)  “Yes, Onesimus, your uselessness is real!  You are not doing as you should and so you dig a hole deeper for yourself and you can not get your self out.  And now you are a runaway slave and so are a criminal and the hole is even deeper.  Philemon has his rights under Roman law.  But there is One Who went into the hole Himself, born under the law:  Jesus Christ, God Himself.  The Lord has shown you your sin but better: He has shown you your Savior!  And that hole was His Cross and grave.  Luke told us that Jesus forgave a repentant thief on the Cross.  He even forgave me, the chief of sinners.  You have heard my story. Onesimus, He is risen and by His blood, He makes you right with God.  The Lord became a slave, as we all were enslaved to sin and death and the power of the devil, in order to bear our sin in His own Body.  Onesimus, His commands are not burdensome: repent and believe in the Gospel.”  In Christ Jesus alone, and His decision for us and for our salvation, Onesimus became more than a slave, a brother, Paul’s child and heart.  Onesimus’ name literally means “useful”.  In Christ Jesus, Onesimus became his own name.  He was lost and was found.  Even now.

Post-script:  According to a letter from St.Ignatius to the Ephesians, as he was going to be executed by the Romans for the Faith, Ignatius mentions one “…Onesimus, a man of inexpressible love and…your bishop.” (that is, pastor)!  St. Ignatius wrote this around the year 100. So this means that Paul’s letter to Philemon  was written only 40 prior to Ignatius’ letter.  We do not know if the two men so named were one and same, never the less, it is in keeping with the working of the Lord Who creates out of nothing, from Abraham,an idolater,  to Moses, a murderer and a stutterer, to David, a lad, to Paul, a persecutor of Christians, to a runway slave named Useful.

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