Twenty-third Sunday: Have
Paul had a situation, a difficult situation he had to deal with. He was under arrest in Rome, but this stage of his arrest was more of a house arrest. He could meet with the members of the Christian community, preach and even make converts. One of these converts was a man whom Paul calls Onesimus. It is hard to say if Onesimus was the man’s real name or not, onesimus means most useful. Paul says that he has been most useful to him. Onesimus became one of Paul’s aides. But, then, here is what happened: Onesimus revealed to Paul that he was an escaped slave. He wasn’t a slave like a galley slave in the Roman ships or an agricultural slave like the poor Africans on the cotton and sugar plantations in the Americas. He was a servant and perhaps even a pedagogue or tutor to his master’s children. The Greeks and the Romans actually had a whole sub society made up of the people captured from various wars. Usually, they were treated fairly well, but that was not always true, and they still were slaves not free. They could be taken away from their families and sold. Still, in the ancient society that was part of the life of a conquered people and expected. There was an additional problem, Onesimus didn’t just run away from his Master, he stole some goods. And to complicate the matter even further, Onesimus’ master, Philemon, was a Christian.
What should Paul do? Onesimus was a slave that was the valuable property of another Christian. Yet, Onesimus was a Christian and one of Paul’s aides. So Paul thought it over and devised the plan that we heard proclaimed in today’s second reading. He sent Onesimus back to Philemon, but with a letter from Paul himself asking Philemon to forgive Onesimus, do him no harm, and recognize him as a brother in Christ. Evidently, many in the Christian community became aware of the situation. Paul used this as a lesson in freedom, the supremacy of the freedom of Christ over even the freedom from slavery. From all we can tell, it appears that Paul’s plan worked. Onesimus returned to Philemon who treated him as both brother in Christ and legal servant.
Paul’s actions followed the instruction that Jesus gave in the Gospel. Jesus spoke about a man who uses his intelligence to decide if he can build something, and a King who uses his intelligence to decide if he should go to battle against his enemy. What Jesus is saying is that this intelligence we use in the temporal affairs of life should also be utilized in the spiritual necessity of life, the Kingdom of God. Otherwise, we all need to have a plan to protect and nurture the Life of Christ.
Folks, it is on! The battle with and for Jesus Christ is on. The forces of evil have mounted every aggression possible against us: attacking our children with physical and moral evil, attacking our elders with the concept that life has changed and immorality is acceptable, attacking every one of us with the strategy that our lives would be less if we didn’t do something the Law of God and our consciences tell us is wrong. This is the exact same attack the devil successfully employed against Adam and Eve: You will somehow be less, diminished, if you do not defy God. God is keeping you down. And so the devil wages war with his most successful weapons: our pride and our selfishness.
But we are also waging war. We are calling upon the Presence of Christ in our lives and leading others to seek His Presence in their Lives. We are forming our people to be aggressive in the fight against evil. We are serving the Presence of Christ in his most needy. We are praying and being prayed for. We are serving and being served. And every choice of God, no matter how little it might seem, every time we stop to call upon Jesus, every time we reach out to give a person a little help, or a lot of help, every time we stand for what is right and fight immorality, every action no matter how minor it may seem at the time, every action is a major victory in the battle for the Kingdom.
The devil is waging war. Jesus is waging war. We the Lord’s people are waging war. But we need to have a plan.
We need to consider the areas where we are being attacked. We need a plan of battle. There is an expression that has somehow gotten lost in political correctness. That expression is “occasion of sin.” If someone is inviting us to a place where we could end up behaving badly in the eyes of God, that situation is an occasion of sin. It is not politically correct to call these situations sinful----but they are. We may know that a party is going to be loaded with drugs and drunks. We need to find a way to stay away. We need a plan. We may know that if we are alone with someone, we are liable to lose control of ourselves. We need to avoid that situation while keeping that boyfriend or girlfriend. We need a plan. We may know that if we are with a particular group of people, we may end up in trouble with the law. We need to avoid them. We need a plan. Our children have been invited to a party or to sleep over at a friend’s house. We know the little ones would have no control over what happens in another person’s house. We need a plan to access the situation before deciding if they can go. We need to protect them.
So, we find out if our little children are going to have unsupervised access to a computer, or to the TV. We avoid the people who are going to be bending or breaking the law. We schedule something that will conflict with that party we need to avoid. We find good, fun things to do with others, not things that are going to destroy us.
Secondly, we need to consider the areas where we can go on the attack by making the Presence real. We need a plan to incorporate more and more positive aspects to our lives. We need to have a plan on how we can be better Christians, better Catholics not just by avoiding things, but by doing things.
Marie Weinhausen was 102 years old when she passed away about ten years ago. She and her husband Bill had a plan. They never had children, but they loved children. They also loved their Church and their parish, St. Ignatius. So they saved every penny they had for children and for their Church. After Bill died, Marie wouldn’t spend anything on herself. She ate meals-on-wheels when she could have had the best food brought in. She lived in a poor trailer, when she could have easily afforded a beautiful condo or townhouse. A few months after she died I received a letter from a law firm in Dunedin. The Weinhausen’s had left a huge trust to be used to help people from St. Ignatius who could not afford Catholic education but who wanted to send their children to Catholic schools. So far the trust has not had to touch principal. That means it is still making money to distribute to those who need it. This year, it gave out $80,000 to various families in our parish who qualified, over $500,000 in the last eight years. Marie and Bill had a plan, a way to serve God.
So what is your plan? What is my plan? How are you, and how am I going to make the presence of Jesus Christ more real in our society? The wonderful truth of life is that the plan the Lord has set aside for each of us is different for every one of us. That is because we are all unique reflections of the Lord. But there are certain common elements to everyone’s plan. We need to be Christo-centric. Our lives need to revolve around Jesus Christ. We need to pray. We need to set aside time every day for prayer. We need to access our talents, our capabilities, and make the best use of the gifts God gave us. Basically speaking we need to live for the Lord, serving His Presence in others.
Paul knew that Philemon was upset. His slave had run away, even taking stolen property with him. Paul also knew that Philemon was a Christian, determined to live the New Way, the Christian Way. Paul had to use his intelligence to serve the Lord. So, Paul made up a plan to right the wrongs committed while still respecting the freedom both Philemon and Onesimus had in Jesus Christ. Paul’s plan was the Letter to Philemon, the second reading. Paul gave us the example of using every situation as an opportunity to serve Jesus Christ, to win yet another battle for the Lord.
Today’s message is really simple. The scripture says: God has given us all intelligence. We need to use it to serve Him. For we are all engaged in the Battle of the Lord and the Battle for the Lord. May your plan and my plan strengthen our world with the dynamism of our Lord. For the Power of Christ is upon us. With Christ the devil doesn’t stand a chance, in our individual lives or in our world. Jesus Christ is the Victor. He wins. He always wins. We pray today that we might have the courage to join him in war and share in His Victory.