Thursday, November 16, 2006

32nd Thursday in Ordinary Time (II)
Kingdom in Relationship

Readings: Philemon 7-20; Psalm 146:7, 8-9a, 9bc-10; Luke 17:20-25

Every time we recite the Our Father, we pray for the coming of God’s kingdom. But what do we really mean? What does the kingdom look like to us? Many of the people in Jesus’ day probably had a rather definite picture of what the coming of God’s kingdom would look like. For some, there would be great signs and wonders, chief of which would be the defeat of the Roman conquerors by a military messiah. But Jesus corrects such expectations by telling us, in today’s gospel, that the coming of the kingdom of God does not admit observation… the kingdom of God is among you. What does he mean? We might wonder…

Paul’s very brief letter to Philemon helps us to imagine what the coming of the kingdom might look like, especially when we consider the relationships that are described in the letter. There is first the relationship between Paul and Philemon. It seems clear, in the letter, that Philemon is somehow indebted to Paul (perhaps for his conversion) such that Paul has no diffidence about telling Philemon to do whatever is your duty. But Paul abandons the language of duty and chooses instead the language of love. I am appealing to your love instead. Could this kind of shift signal the coming of the kingdom?

There is yet another shift involved here. Consider the favor that Paul asks of Philemon. This involves a second relationship: that between Philemon and Onesimus. Paul is asking Philemon to allow a radical shift in this relationship, from that of master-slave to that of blood-brother and brother-in-the-Lord. Could this be another signal of the coming of the kingdom?

As we ponder these questions today we might also consider the many different relationships in our own personal and communal lives. What shifts are necessary to hasten the coming of God’s kingdom among us?

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