THE KINGDOM OF GOD IS WITHIN US AND IN OUR MIDST
SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ PHILEMON 7-20; LUKE 17:20-25 ]
The Jews during the time of Jesus were speculating on the arrival of the Kingdom of God. In other words, they were looking out for signs of the day of the Lord. And in those days, it was believed that the Day of the Lord would come when there would be total destruction of the Old Age, that is, this present world, before the New World is ushered in. Preceding this event there would be wars and natural disasters. That was why Jesus told them, “When you hear of wars and rumours of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is still to come. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. This is but the beginning of the birth pangs.” (Mk 13:7f)
Rather, the Kingdom of God is in us. This is because the Kingdom of God is the reign of God’s love, justice and joy in our lives. St Paul says, “For the kingdom of God is not food and drink but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” (Rom 14:17) Thus when “asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God was to come, Jesus gave them this answer, ‘The coming of the kingdom of God does not admit of observation and there will be no one to say, “Look here! Look there!” For, you must know, the kingdom of God is among you.'”
Indeed, if we live the life of the Spirit, the life of Christ, then the Kingdom of God is already here in us and in our midst. “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” Conversely, St Paul warns us, “Now the works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these. I am warning you, as I warned you before: those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.” (Gal 5:19-21)
A case in point is the transformation of the life of Onesimus. He was most likely a runaway slave. But for some reason, he came to find Paul in prison. Through the mentoring and tutorship of Paul, Onesimus was converted to the Lord. St Paul took pains to point out to Philemon the radical transformation of Onesimus, from one who was “no use to you before, but he will be useful to you now, as he has been to me.” Before his conversion, Onesimus must have been a difficult slave.
But through Paul’s preaching of the gospel and his fatherly care and love for him, he was transformed and converted. Indeed, the relationship that was cultivated between Paul and Onesimus was like a father and a son. He said, “I am appealing to you for a child of mine, whose father I became while wearing these chains: I mean Onesimus.” Paul must have shown him the love of God in such a way that he was touched and moved by his compassion and gentle love and care for him. That changed him to want to serve Paul in prison willingly and happily. Under St Paul’s tutelage, Onesimus did not just become a Christian but his personal life was transformed as well, from living for himself to living for others, from an unwilling slave to a willing slave of the Lord.
Most likely, Onesimus was a new name given to him after his baptism because the word, “Onesimus” means “beneficial.” As a result of being reborn in Christ, Onesimus now lived out his identity as Christ’s brother, and his name, which is to benefit others. His invaluable service to Paul who was in his old age must have been remarkable and Paul was grateful for his service. When Paul wrote to Philemon, he assured him that he would be more useful to him than before. Indeed, he said, “I am sending him back to you, and with him – I could say – a part of my own self. I should have liked to keep him with me; he could have been a substitute for you, to help me while I am in the chains that the Good News has brought me. However, I did not want to do anything without your consent; it would have been forcing your act of kindness, which should be spontaneous.”
Indeed, for Paul, Onesimus should no longer be regarded a slave but a brother in the Lord since he had accepted Christ. Writing to Philemon, he said, “I know you have been deprived of Onesimus for a time, but it was only so that you could have him back for ever, not as a slave anymore, but something better than a slave, a dear brother; especially dear to me, but how much more to you, as a blood-brother as well as a brother in the Lord.” As a true believer in the Lord, he is the brother of Christ and therefore our brother. In the mind of St Paul, slavery should be abolished although at that point of time, it was still so much part of the culture. But it is significant that Christianity speaks of the freedom of every person because he or she has been purchased by Christ and belongs to Christ. And if we all belong to Christ, then we are brothers and sisters. Relationships among Christians should not be focused on a master-slave relationship but we are all one in Christ, serving the Lord in and through each other in different ways.
It is within this context that Paul urged Philemon to accept Onesimus back, not as a slave, but as a brother in the Lord because of his new identity as a Christian, a son to him, a brother to all. “So if all that we have in common means anything to you, welcome him as you would me.” As Christians, we are called to accept one another in Christ, respecting everyone regardless of race, language, wealth, rank and status. In the Church, all must be treated equally and there should be no discrimination between the rich and the poor, the influential and the ordinary people. In the mind of Christ, we are all equally important to Him. St James wrote, “If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, “Here’s a good seat for you,” but say to the poor man, “You stand there” or “Sit on the floor by my feet,” have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? Listen, my dear brothers and sisters: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him?” (Jms 2:3-5)
But such matter should not be seen or be reduced to an obligation because if we fulfill the command to love and accept our brothers and sisters unwillingly, that love would not be sincere and free. We will be paying only lip service and not genuine hospitality. Thus, St Paul did not wish to impose his will on Philemon to accept Onesimus back. Rather, he said, “Now, although in Christ I can have no diffidence about telling you to do whatever is your duty, I am appealing to your love instead, reminding you that this is Paul writing, an old man now and, what more, still a prisoner of Christ Jesus.” He even went to the extent of wanting to repay what Onesimus owed him. “If he has wronged you in any way or owes you anything, then let me pay for it. I am writing this in my own handwriting: I, Paul, shall pay it back – I will not add any mention of your debt to me, which is yourself.”
What St Paul said to Philemon is also addressed to us, “I am so delighted, and comforted, to know of your love; they tell me, brother, how you have put new heart into the saints … Well then, brother, I am counting on you, in the Lord; put new heart into me, in Christ.” Let us also follow St Paul and Philemon in putting new hearts in those who are hopeless, the poor, the depressed, the forlorn, the troubled, the sick and the hopeless. We are called to be like St Paul to transform life, to heal, to empower and to restore such wounded and dejected people to wholeness through Christ and in Christ. Like St Paul we must see the hidden Christ in such difficult and wounded people. They are like Onesimus, waiting to be set free from their slavery to self and to their passions. So we must follow St Paul in embracing them, taking them into our arms and fold, guide, heal and give them a new life. So long as they have Christ, there is hope. This is how we make the Kingdom of God present here and now, in our midst and in our hearts.
Written by The Most Rev William Goh, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore © All Rights Reserved
Best Practices for Using the Daily Scripture Reflections
- Encounter God through the spirit of prayer and the scripture by reflecting and praying the Word of God daily. The purpose is to bring you to prayer and to a deeper union with the Lord on the level of the heart.
- Daily reflections when archived will lead many to accumulate all the reflections of the week and pray in one sitting. This will compromise your capacity to enter deeply into the Word of God, as the tendency is to read for knowledge rather than a prayerful reading of the Word for the purpose of developing a personal and affective relationship with the Lord.
- It is more important to pray deeply, not read widely. The current reflections of the day would be more than sufficient for anyone who wants to pray deeply and be led into an intimacy with the Lord.
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