In today’s second reading – the briefest of all New Testament letters - Paul offers Philemon, a well-to-do Christian from Colossae, a simple, direct challenge: Think again. Make a fresh choice.
Philemon had a slave named Onesimus – the name itself means “useful” or “profitable.” Onesimus escaped or ran away and eventually, found himself in the company of Paul in a Roman prison. Paul then writes this very personal letter to Philemon, asking him to take Onesimus back, no longer as a slave but as a brother. In modern terms, Paul asked Philemon to think again, to think and act in a revolutionary way – not just to acquiesce to the values of the existing social system, but to create a new order of life in Christ, where there would be neither slave nor free. What Paul asks has implications for both Philemon, Onesimus and their world. Their actions would bring others to think again, choose again.
The Gospel today continues this amazing challenge of Christ that, like Philemon, we think again and make new choices. In the instructions and stories he tells today, Jesus invites his hearers to make choices that are:
Arise out of a sense of discipleship.
Are personally costly,
and are incongruous to a skeptical world.
Here’s a well-known example of a costly choice. When a couple gets married, their wedding both announces and celebrates a choice. The couple says to each other: “I am for you. I will be for you in good times and bad.” But we know that the starry-eyed loveliness of the wedding gives way to daily struggles to keep love fresh, to care for children and to cope with illness and economic ups and downs. Think again. Choose one another again. It is never enough to say “I made that choice once.” We can all do that and do it with relative ease. It is much harder to choose our commitments day by day. Or if one day, the marriage is no longer viable, the partners need to think again. Choices still need to be made to support children, be faithful to life-giving values, to the people close to them and to oneself.
That is precisely where we carry our daily cross - when we are seemingly alone, when what we do is unpopular, misunderstood or deemed foolhardy. How things look at the outset is important, or else we could never begin. What is crucial, however, is to meet the situations that test our resolve, the critical moments, the hard times.
However stable or changing our daily commitments may be, choosing to be faithful to God anew or over again does not mean our lives end up on a cross and stay there. As with Christ, there is resolution, victory, sadness and misery overcome. The resurrection is made real. Think of that again and often and choose life with and in Christ.