Twenty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time
Communion of faith and human relationships
I rather urge you out of love, being as I am, Paul, an old man, and now also a prisoner for Christ Jesus. I urge you on behalf of my child Onesimus, whose father I have become in my imprisonment, I am sending him, that is, my own heart, back to you. I should have liked to retain him for myself, so that he might serve me on your behalf in my imprisonment for the gospel, but I did not want to do anything without your consent, so that the good you do might not be forced but voluntary. Perhaps this is why he was away from you for a while, that you might have him back forever, no longer as a slave but more than a slave, a brother, beloved especially to me, but even more so to you, as a man and in the Lord. So if you regard me as a partner, welcome him as you would me.
Onesimus, a slave of Philemon’s (a rich man in Colossus, converted by Paul) had fled. Luckily he had gone to Rome and met Paul, who, by announcing the gospel to him, had regenerated him in faith. Nevertheless, Paul decides to send him back to his master with a letter, from which today’s excerpt is taken. The apostle, now old and in prison because of the Gospel, would like to keep Onesimus with him, because he could be very useful to him, but he prefers to send him back to Philemon and recommends the latter to consider him no longer as a slave, but as a “brother in the Lord”. In this letter, Paul does not ask Philemon to release him from slavery, because he does not want to force Philemon to do something he does not want to. However, his wish is clear: Paul hopes that Onesimus could be declared a free man. Thank God, in the developed countries slavery does not exist any more, but there are circumstances still today to which today’s excerpt could give an answer. For instance, what should be the relationship between the employer and the employee in a firm, if both share their faith? Since I made this experience personally, I immediately say that it is no easy situation. Different steady hierarchies exist in a firm, which form the base of its functionality. Problems could arise if you change them or substitute them with brotherhood in faith, and the most difficult-to-solve ones regard the fields of commanding and the relationship between the employer and the other employee, which cannot be changed because of the union in faith. This issue can be thought inside a wider one concerning the “relationship” between human beings and the reason for it, or better (as they use to say today) its “content”. Getting back to the work environment, a firm must care for the goodness and competitiveness of its product, as well as the relationship between the workers and between the workers and the employer. If a relationship involving brotherhood in faith has this purpose, it is well founded, otherwise it must be corrected. In my professional experience, it has happened to me to see products getting worse because of wrong human relationships and private relationships different from the professional ones. While starting up a thermal electric plant, I had to replace a starting operator because he used to raise many problems because of ideological disagreement with the starting responsible. It is necessary to be very wise to match work and human relationships the best way.