What a poignant, short letter this is! Paul writes to his Christian brother and slave owner Philemon, asking him to treat the runaway slave, Onesimus, well. Asking him, in fact, to treat him as a brother in the Lord, for that is who he is now. Apparently, Onesimus was converted when he was with Paul after escaping Philemon’s house, perhaps after stealing money. Philemon and Apphia (Philemon’s wife?) and Archippus are leaders in the church in Colossae (see Colossians).
Of all the books in the Bible, this one especially reminds us of the down-to-earth, relationship basis of the Christian church. Paul is not writing a theological text; he writes to build relationships, to encourage forgiveness. He even offers to pay restitution on behalf of the runaway slave if that will build harmony.
Nor is Paul writing an anti-slavery document, and yet he runs counter to his culture by affirming the dignity and preciousness of each individual human being – even the runaway slave who could, according to the cultural norms, be treated cruelly and even executed by his owner.
Thank you Father for the unlimited love that you have for each individual person: for the outcast and those with many fans and friends, for the rich and the poor, for the washed and those who have not washed for weeks, for those in magnificent mansions and those who live on the street, for those in flash cars and those in bare feet. Bless them all and give us the grace and peace to love them all.