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Lectionary Life

3 February 2020

17

In which we deal with an endemic evil of ancient empires: Slavery. You have to have some source of energy to run a civilization, and for the Romans it was wheat porridge, from large farms run by slaves, managed by slaves, and with the master providing the animals and tools they needed. It was an early form of corporate agriculture: the citizen farmer of the republic (Cincinnatus) had become the political client of corporations.

This was the world of Paul. The pagans had no time for Christians, and many Christains were slaves. What do you do theen, with a runaway slave?

And in this situation Paul wrote a letter.

Philemon

1 Paul, a prisoner for Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother,

To Philemon our beloved fellow worker 2 and Apphia our sister and Archippus our fellow soldier, and the church in your house:

3 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

4 I thank my God always when I remember you in my prayers, 5 because I hear of your love and of the faith that you have towards the Lord Jesus and for all the saints, 6 and I pray that the sharing of your faith may become effective for the full knowledge of every good thing that is in us for the sake of Christ. 7 For I have derived much joy and comfort from your love, my brother, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you.

8 Accordingly, though I am bold enough in Christ to command you to do what is required, 9 yet for love’s sake I prefer to appeal to you—I, Paul, an old man and now a prisoner also for Christ Jesus— 10 I appeal to you for my child, Onesimus, whose father I became in my imprisonment. 11 (Formerly he was useless to you, but now he is indeed useful to you and to me.) 12 I am sending him back to you, sending my very heart. 13 I would have been glad to keep him with me, in order that he might serve me on your behalf during my imprisonment for the gospel, 14 but I preferred to do nothing without your consent in order that your goodness might not be by compulsion but of your own accord. 15 For this perhaps is why he was parted from you for a while, that you might have him back for ever, 16 no longer as a slave but more than a slave, as a beloved brother—especially to me, but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord.

17 So if you consider me your partner, receive him as you would receive me. 18 If he has wronged you at all, or owes you anything, charge that to my account. 19 I, Paul, write this with my own hand: I will repay it—to say nothing of your owing me even your own self. 20 Yes, brother, I want some benefit from you in the Lord. Refresh my heart in Christ.

21 Confident of your obedience, I write to you, knowing that you will do even more than I say. 22 At the same time, prepare a guest room for me, for I am hoping that through your prayers I will be graciously given to you.

23 Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, sends greetings to you, 24 and so do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, and Luke, my fellow workers.

25 The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.

Now, you may way, we don’t have slavery here… I have friends in the States who would disagree. They see the victims of the trade. I see people hooked into something that drives them ro repeeated, habitual behaviour that enslaves them.

When we can, we should free them.

And the imperial system that relied on slavery? Rome is no more: The Greeks are no more: Carthage and Egypt are no more. THe Americans removed slavery at the cost of a bloody civil war, and the British by blockading the trade in slaves for two or three generations of sailors.