Thursday, November 02, 2006

Philemon: Paul's continuing decosntruction of the "other"

Paul apparently had a significant relationship with Philemon, and it can be assumed from the letter that Philemon held Paul in high enough regard that Paul could just order him to do something and it would be done. Onesimus was Philemon’s runaway slave who crossed paths with Paul and became a follower of Christ. Paul apparently convinced Onesimus that he should return to Philemon and Colossae ( a very risky move), and he does so with this letter in hand. Paul’s letter to Philemon is one of the most personal. However, it is not addressed only to Philemon. It can be assumed that it would we read to his faith community. Paul seems to assume that this is a community decision and not Philemon’s decision alone. In his letter to the Colossians, Paul lays out a version of his household code (a slightly truncated version of the one he lays out in Ephesians), and as can be expected, he lays it out his normal reciprocal and subtly subversive way. However, in his letter to Philemon, he seems to take it further. He seems to want Philemon, who has the right to even kill his runaway slave (property) if he wishes, to welcome him as a brother. He seems to want Philemon to see Onesimus in the same light as he would view Paul. He is not simply seeking to protect Onesimus’ life, nor is he simply seeking to restore the relationship to it’s former condition. What he subtly implies about the slave/master relationship in Colossians, he virtually shouts in Philemon. He wants Onesimus to be welcomed back as a fellow man (quite a step up for “property”), as a brother, and as a partner. So, what does this mean for us today? What Paul hints at elsewhere, he makes quite clear here: In Christ, no one is “less than”.

1 comment:

GB Hoyt said...

Wow No one wants to take on this subject do they?
For one:
I think that sometimes we have a problem relating to philemon because he was a slave-owner. I've tried to understand him because my own family has a history of slave-ownership. I know that slavery in Paul's day was significantly different than in American slavery. Americans missed the boat because we lost sight of the kingdom and couldn't get beyond our pocketbooks. As a result we were willing to do many horrific things like syncretize bad science with bad (eis)exegesis to justify doing things that grieved the spirit.
The question is,
Who is Onesimus, and who is Philemon today?