Pointing at the bulletin letter's date (link) at left will display it's title.
August 31, 2008
Are St. Paul’s Epistles Still Relevant?
It happens, on occasion, that people read the scriptures and wonder if they are still relevant to people living around the world in the 21st century. The letters of St. Paul are no exception. As a matter of fact, the Epistles of Paul not only fall in the same category as other New Testament books with reference to relevance but they are often found to be difficult to read due to their grammatical structure. Paul wrote in very long sentences with few commas or periods. This serves to make the message not only questionable with respect to relevance but they are often difficult to comprehend.
It is true that Paul’s letters are a challenge for the novice scripture student and for the majority of people in the pew. However, it not necessarily true that they are irrelevant. For this reason we will look at several of Paul’s letters and their message during this Jubilee Year of Paul. We will begin our search for Paul’s message in our times with the very short letter to Philemon. The entire epistle is only 25 verses long including the greeting and farewell.
This letter was addressed to three specific individuals during one of Paul’s imprisonments, perhaps the one in Rome between A.D. 61 and 63. The letter was written to a man by the name of Philemon. He is a slave owner in Colossae. Slavery was an old institution that was universally accepted in the Mediterranean world in the first century. Paul does not attempt to attack slavery directly since he fully realized that the vulnerable Christian communities of the first century were in no position to do so. However, Paul does manage to voice his opinion on the matter even if it is clearly a revolutionary idea.
The letter simply states that a man by the name of Onesimus, the runaway slave of Philemon, has been converted to Christ by Paul. Paul write to Philemon telling him that he is sending Onesimus back to him. The letter strongly urges Philemon to accept Onesimus , not as a slave but as a brother in Christ. Paul make the point that they are all partners in the faith. He adds that, if Onesimus has done him any wrong, Paul himself would be responsible for paying him back. Money, in other words, should not be allowed to come between them.
Paul sees the situation of Onesimus as providential. He explains to Philemon that it is highly probable that God himself wanted this situation to take place thus making it possible for Onesimus to be converted. Paul characteristically uses fairly strong language to urge Philemon to forgive his slave and to accept him as a brother. Although the language is strong it is also positive, trusting and faith filled.
Is this letter relevant to our century? One cannot argue the point that the concepts of trusting relationships, forgiveness, having the courage to relate matters of faith with every day life, challenging old institutions even when it might bring about retribution, are all relevant to people in the 21st century. If we change the names of the people and places and perhaps change the circumstances, all of us could be good candidates for receiving such a letter, could we not?
Perhaps we could use this letter for meditation this week. What circumstance in your life could relate to such concept?
Lorette P. Nault