Was Paul wrong in sending an escaped slave back into slavery?



Thursday, 11/15/12

The first reading today is a personal note that Paul wrote to Philemon, a landowner at Collossae. Philemon was indebted to Paul because he had received the Faith from him. Now, Paul asks for a return favor. It was concerned with a man named Onesimus who had been a slave of Philemon. .

Onesimus had fled from Philemon, carrying off some of his property. After making his way to Rome, Onesimus, stumbled about searching for shelter; and he happened to slip into the dwelling where Paul was undergoing house arrest. He put himself into Paul’s service, and went on to become an eager Christian

An interesting aspect of the story deals with the way everyone’s accepted slavery. They knew that it was sinful, and they knew that persons created in God’s image should not be made into the property of other persons; but they didn’t see the use of  objecting to established law. (Like they say, “When in Rome do as the Romans do.”) Does Paul’s passive acceptance of slavery give us any direction for dealing with laws we feel are wrong?

Paul and Onesimus set themselves to abide by those immoral laws of Rome which condoned  human slavery. In accordance with them, Paul was sending his dear servant back into slavery. Onesimus was committing himself to a fate that might include a punishment such as maiming.

Putting that discussion aside, there is another aspect of Paul’s letter that is worth noting. It is the amount of love in it. Paul’s love for Onesimus makes their parting painful to him. His love for Philemon gives him hope. Luke and Mark, Demas and Archelaus, who were with Paul in Rome wanted to assure Philemon of their warm affection for him.

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