23rd Sunday Year C
September 8, 2013
MORE THAN A SLAVE, A BROTHER!
Today is a day of contrasts, tenderness, generosity, and mercy. The Book of Wisdom (first reading) contrasts the ways of the Lord and the ways of man. While we can fathom the “timid deliberations” of man, we cannot that easily “conceive what the Lord intends.”
But although God’s ways are indeed, not like man’s ways, we proclaimed the conviction of our faith together with tenderness right after the first reading: “In every age, O Lord, you have been our refuge.”
But what does the conviction of faith in a God of mystery and tenderness lead us to, we might ask? Let the second reading show us in concrete … There goes Paul writing to Philemon, interceding with the same tenderness of Christian charity, on behalf of Onesimus, once a slave, but now a brother in the Lord.
I write from a place where I spent a great part of my younger years, both as formand and formator, accompanying the young postulants in their journey towards self-discovery for the nth time in my life as formator. Many other groups have undergone the same process under my tutelage. As I lead, I learn. As I foster growth, I grow, too. As I facilitate healing, I, too, get healed. As I talk of transcendence, I, too, am gradually transformed. As I talk about unfreedoms and other forms of interior slavery, I, too, become like Onesimus, once upon a time a slave, but now a dear brother in the Lord.
The world is steeped now in myriad challenges. There is trouble brewing in Syria which is not even a Christian country. There is persecution going on everywhere where religious intolerance reigns supreme. There, too, is a de facto brewing potential constitutional crisis in the Philippines, brought about by revelations of massive corruption in the highest echelons of government. The bigger crisis is not so much in corruption for that is something we already knew was happening. It lies in the brazen lies and denials and the cover-ups being done by the very same perpetrators, who are hiding behind the intricacies of the law, to declare their “innocence” before a people who by now already know better than to believe their shamefaced lies.
There is slavery of all kinds, even of the depraved kind. Great crowds still continue to follow where the Lord leads, for we all long for saving truth, and we all long to be delivered from these and other forms of slaveries that bedevil us, individually and collectively. In the Philippine context, although the Church has been and still is condemned for “meddling too much in politics,” the reality remains that the great crowds still seek for leadership, for guidance, for certain and strong and stable shepherding, to lead our people out of this impasse of moral corruption. Many still condemn the Church and hold her accountable for the rampant moral depravity in and out of government, like as if the Church were responsible for what individuals in government do.
Today, a day when we traditionally celebrate so tender a feast day of so tender a Mother, Mary, Mother of Jesus and Mother of us all, the Church continues to lead us. The Church calls us to be generous and reminds us of two important things. First, we cannot be disciples of the Lord if we did not know how to “hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters.” Second, more than just freeing ourselves from natural affiliative bonds of family, he counsels us even further generosity: “renounce all possessions” as a precondition of discipleship.
Of course, we do not need to interpret all this literally. But we do need to understand what it all means, what this generosity is all about in the long run. And it is all about being free, not hindered, not bound to, and not bogged down in earthly and material concerns. It all means not being enslaved by anything material, anything that has to do with earthly human bonds, including family bonds. It means being free from, so as to be free for.
Paul got it right. Philemon was getting it right, too. Onesimus was once a slave, maybe even a slave to other stuff, and not just to Onesimus. Paul declares him to be what we all already are, by baptism. By God’s choice. By God’s call.
Let us be true to becoming what we already are. Let us be tender in asking the Lord that we might become more of what He has already made us to be. Let us be generous in our self-offering and even more generous in giving up what we hold on to so dearly, so selfishly. Let us be true disciples of mercy, instead of merely being crowds of mercenaries out to get what is best for us from the wonder worker named Jesus.
For this is what He has mercifully given us … the reality that we were “once slaves, but now brothers and sisters in the Lord!” What more can we ask?