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Proper 18

Deuteronomy 30.15–20
Philemon 1–21
Luke 14.25–33

Which of your letters would you like preserved for a couple of millennia? Philemon is one of the most ‘domestic’ of the documents of the New Testament, and it is impossible not to read it like an unfinished novel. What happened before the letter? What happened as a result of it? What does it tell us about the main characters?

It does seem clear that the letter is written by Paul on behalf of Onesimus, a runaway slave. We don’t know why he ran away, but it looks as though he chose his destination with care. If anyone could shield him from his master’s wrath it was Paul. After all, Philemon owes Paul a great deal, and is unlikely to refuse him anything he asks. As far as Onesimus is concerned, it doesn’t make much difference that Paul is in prison, since Onesimus is never free, anyway. Perhaps Onesimus had managed to hang around the meetings that happened in Philemon’s house, and had heard phrases such as ‘no slave, no free, all one in Christ’, and decided to put them to the test...

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