Sunday, September 08, 2013

Sunday word, 08 Sep 2013

23rd Sunday of the Year C (08 Sep 2013)
Homily of Fr. Paul Panaretos, S.J.
Solomon is well known; not so Philemon. Many are unsure how to say his name: FILL-ee-mun. Both have something to say to us about wisdom. Today’s first reading recalled Solomon’s prayer for wisdom. Solomon knew human wisdom—our deliberations—is timid. He did not mean shy. He meant not certain, not secure. Something not secure may be dangerous. The range from insecure to dangerous describes the uncertainty of our reason, emotion and resolve. Our reasoning and feelings get tripped; and we often live in fits and starts instead of single-minded purpose. Jesus’ remarks, spoken with conviction and no gentle color, revealed Solomon was correct.

God’s wisdom, though, is con-fident. God’s holy spirit imparts God’s wisdom to mortals. Risen Jesus gives us access to God’s holy spirit so we may live with confident trust. Our access is not breezy; following Jesus has demands. Anything can block and interrupt our following. Jesus warned things close to us have the most power: possessions and relationships. Jesus spoke not of feelings when he spoke of hating family. Jesus’ strong language means choosing Jesus as our primary relation. To renounce possessions means saying goodbye to them as primary. Disciples welcome Jesus and his word as primary and find Jesus and his word useful for living. St. Paul’s note to Philemon offers an example of divine wisdom in human life with Jesus as first.

St. Paul remarked about weakness throughout his letters. He admitted anxiety1 and other interior weakness2 as well as physical weakness due to disease,3 beatings4 and imprisonment.5 He wrote more than once as a prisoner. His weaknesses did not transform him; Christ Jesus did. Transformed by Christ Jesus Paul wrote Philemon, Take Onesimus to your heart as you would me. Paul asked his benefactor and his brother in Christ Jesus to reform his personal attitude about his possession.

Onesimus was Philemon’s runaway slave. He could end the lives of rebellious slaves. Onesimus found himself in prison with Paul. Onesimus feared his master wanted his property and feared the worst. During their imprisonment Onesimus helped Paul; he wrote his benefactor and brother in Christ Jesus: I urge you on behalf of my child Onesimus, whose father I have become in my imprisonment, who was once useless to you but is now useful both to you and me.6

Paul wrote in Greek. In who was once useless to you but is now useful both to you and me, Paul made a deft play on words. Chreestos [χρηστοςis the root of both useful and useless. Non-Christians confused chreestos with its sound-alike Christos [Χριστος], the Greek title for Jesus as Messiah.7 It was not uncommon.8 St. Paul played on useful and useless in his note to Philemon. St. Paul suggested that before his conversion Onesimus was useless without Christ. Now Onesimus was a good Christian useful to Paul. Paul recognized a good coworker.

Philemon, too, supported Paul’s work. He reminded Philemon that he had Paul to thank for bringing him, his family, Onesimus and all his slaves to Christ Jesus. The benefactor of Paul was in the Apostle’s debt: May I not tell you that you owe me your very self.”9 St. Paul did not lord that over Philemon when he noted it for the record.  He recognized Jesus had made Philemon and Paul each a partner of the other.10

The point is transformation. Transformation worked by risen Jesus through his Spirit. Transformation of a timid Paul: he stood up for a slave who was much more: a brother in Jesus; brother even to his master.11 With Jesus as the hinge in their and all relationships transformation of their social obligation was afoot. Real obligation and gratitude for living belong to risen Jesus. Benefactor Philemon owed it no less than receiver of kindness, Paul.

Transformation invites us: the way we understand useful in our Catholic lives. Jesus invites us to understand useful not as doing but as identity: being in risen Jesus. Knowing ourselves rooted in Jesus and created by Jesus each moment helps us appreciate all humans are images and likenesses of their Creator and Redeemer. Noticing Jesus creating and redeeming us releases us from the grip of our weaknesses, possessions and relationships to partner freely with Jesus and give witness to him by our choices and our ways of living. Pope Francis recently expressed the usefulness of Christian identity this way: “Be always united with Christ, building his Kingdom with fraternity, sharing and merciful works.”12

In your daily 15 minutes with Jesus this week
  • Pause in the bright shadow of the Trinity.
  • Ask St. Paul to present you to Jesus.
  • In your words chat with Jesus: praise him for creating and redeeming you; thank him for choosing you to serve…[his] gospel.
  • Ask Jesus for the grace to allow him to transform you more into the person Jesus creates and redeems: a wise not a timid disciple.
  • Close saying slowly the Lord’s Prayer. Thy will be done on our lips is not about any whims of God but about serving the gospel. The gospel guides us to embody God’s desires for the world. Jesus gives us his wisdom to live them.

Link to this homily’s Spiritual Exercise
  1. 2 Corinthians 11.28: And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure upon me of my anxiety for all the churches.
  2. 2 Corinthians 12.7-10: What began in his flesh affected his inner self.
  3. Galatians 4.13-14
  4. If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness. St. Paul enumerates several causes in 2 Corinthians 11.23-27, of which beatings was one.
  5. Also see Philippians 1.
  6. Philemon 11.The lectionary framers did not include this verse which is within today’s reading.
  7. Suetonius, The Lives of the Twelve Caesars: Life of Claudius, 25:4, is one example.
  8. Early preachers of Christianity played on the misunderstanding in their defense. Justin Martyr did in his First Apology.
  9. Philemon 19.
  10. Philemon 17.
  11. Philemon 16.
  12. At the 04 September General Audience to Arabic speaking pilgrims.

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