THEME: It’s Time to Go Back to Philemon and Put Things Right

BY: Fr. Anthony O. Ezeaputa, MA.



Our second reading (Philemon 9–10, 12–17) this Sunday is the encounter between Onesimus, Philemon, and the apostle Paul. These three biblical figures challenge us in different ways. Onesimus challenges us to find those whom we have hurt by our actions or inactions, words, or thoughts, and to reconcile with them. Philemon exhorts us to give those who have hurt us a second chance. Paul shows us how to be instruments of God’s peace and fraternal reconciliation.

Onesimus was a slave (Philemon 1:16) belonging to Philemon, who owes his conversion to Paul. Onesimus was still a pagan when he stole from Philemon and fled to Rome from Colosse. While in Rome, he encountered Paul, who was then incarcerated. Paul led Onesimus to Christ (Philemon 1:10) and sent him back to Philemon in Colosse.

Under Roman law, a slave master might inflict any punishment he wished on a runaway slave. The master had the option of returning the slave to them or executing them if they were captured. As Onesimus fled with his stolen goods, this sentence hung over his head.

In order for Onesimus to return to a city where it was well known that he had been neither a Christian nor an honest man, he needed someone to attest to the authenticity of his conversion and transformation. In his epistle to Philemon, Paul advocated for the conversion and transformation of Onesimus.
Paul commended Onesimus to the Colossians and Philemon as no more a slave but a brother; no more dishonest and faithless but trustworthy; no more an object of contempt but of love.

Paul, accordingly, begs Philemon to give Onesimus a second chance and to give him the same reception as he would rejoice to give him. Had Philemon not been a Christian, and had Paul not written this most beautiful letter, Onesimus might well have been afraid to return.

Certainly, each and every one of us can relate to the Onesimus story. Who hasn’t hurt people, especially those who they love? Is there anyone who has never been tempted and sometimes fallen for temptations? Is there anyone who has not at least once been deceived by the false happiness that sin seems to give? Does anyone dislike it when others advocate for them in their lowest moments or attest to their transformation after making silly mistakes? Who does not deserve a second chance? Who does not deserve to be forgiven? Who finds it so easy to ask for forgiveness? Nobody!

In all these situations, we are like Onesimus because we all make mistakes from time to time and deserve to get another chance. Sometimes it is so hard to ask or to give another chance. However, it is always the right thing to ask for forgiveness and to fix the relationship that we have strained through our mistakes.

Onesimus ran off to Rome. His goal was to hide away in the big city. We too have the inclination to run away from our problems, to try and put as much distance between them and us as possible. Often, we also try to blend into the crowd so that no one notices our mistakes and failings. However, Onesimus learned the same lesson as Jonah; you can’t outrun God.

What a reminder of God’s love for sinners! God sought a runaway slave hiding in the large city of Rome from the punishment he deserved and touched him with grace. Will you allow God to find you? Will you open your heart to God, who stands at the door knocking and waiting for you to open it (Revelation 3:20)?

Onesimus’s life was changed. God had forgiven him, but his past still hung over him. Maybe you’ve repented of your sin to God, but still, avoid the people you have wronged. You’ve responded to the gospel but not to the consequences of your mistakes. Paul says to Onesimus, “It’s time to go back to Philemon and put things right.” It was time to seek forgiveness from Philemon for the wrong that he had caused him. Could it be that our failure to deal with our past actions is hindering us from being used where God wants us? It is time for us to make peace with our past so that it does not undermine our present and promising future.

Let us take a clue from Onesimus, Philemon, and Paul. Are you Onesimus? Is God calling you to recognize your mistakes and fix your broken relationships? Perhaps you’re Philemon. It is time to forgive those who hurt you. Or are you called to be Paul, the instrument of peace and reconciliation between the brethren? Happy Sunday!


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