Thursday: 15 November, 2012 –– 33rd Week in Ordinary Time
Philemon 7–20 / Luke 17:20–25
The Response of Love
How do we recognize the Kingdom of God? The Jews in Jesus’ day had very explicit expectations. They assumed the emergence of God’s kingdom would deliver Israel from all its temporal hardships and catapult the Jews into prominence as a world power.
There is something deeply rooted in human nature that wants to force its own way. From sweeping political power plays to little manipulations even between husband and wife, it is only too easy for us to calculate and try to manipulate what we want. It’s even more insidious when an attempt is made to baptize power and control with religion. When we are convinced that “right” is on our side, the temptation to force an agenda and coerce behaviors can indeed become a religious crusade.
How do we recognize the Kingdom of God? The first thing we need to do is listen to and look at Jesus. Did Jesus manipulate and coerce? Think of that basic, early word he gave to his first followers: By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another (John 13:35).
The Kingdom of God comes to us in love. The Kingdom of God is extended by love. Life in the Kingdom of God is love.
St Paul models that in a very specific situation. Onesimus was a run-away slave, owned by a Christian acquaintance of Paul named Philemon. Onesimus crossed paths with Paul, who brought this run-away slave to faith in Jesus. Paul then sends Onesimus back to Philemon with this letter, asking certain responses from Philemon. [There are many issues which could be raised here from the perspective of our day, but we first need to deal with the realities of that time and the details of this text.]
My point here is that Paul models the loving –– the wooing –– stance of the Lord. St Paul could have used “apostolic authority” and demanded any number of responses from Philemon, but here is the essence of what Paul says: I did not want to do anything without your consent, so that the good you do might not be forced but voluntary....
Yes, we have God’s Commands. We have the dogmas and other teachings of the Church. We have bishops and the Magisterium. Sometimes the more faithful of the Church want the authority and “force” of Canon Law to swoop in and straighten everyone out. Jesus wants our hearts. The Church is at its best when it models and motivates us to do as God has done for us in Christ Jesus (and modeled here by his Apostle): not to do anything without consent, so that the good you do might not be forced but voluntary....
When we see genuine love for one another, we can know that the Kingdom of God is among us.