Today’s second reading is the shortest of Paul’s letters in the New Testament. It is the Letter of St Paul to Philemon. It is so short that it is not divided into chapters. It has only 25 verses. The letter was addressed to Philemon and the Christians that gathered in his home. Philemon was a rich merchant from Colossae. Paul must have met him while traveling through the province of Asia Minor. Paul converted him to Christianity, and since he was wealthy and had a large house, his house became a meeting place for the Church.
This letter that Paul wrote to Philemon was about Onesimus, who was Philemon’s slave. Onesimus stole some money from Philemon and escaped. Some suggest that he escaped to Ephesus, while others suggest he escaped to Rome where he met Paul in prison. Most likely, after escaping from Philemon, he committed some other crime, which led to his arrest and imprisonment.
While in prison, Onesimus and Paul must have had a lot of time to share their stories. After Paul won his trust, Onesimus must have shared with Paul about how he stole Philemon’s money and escaped. At that point, Paul must have exclaimed, “Philemon? The rich merchant from Colossae? I know him very well. He respects me a lot. Now that you have repented and have been baptized, would you like me to send you back to him with a letter?” Onesimus must have accepted the offer, hence the letter, which we read today as Paul’s Letter to Philemon.
Paul was not in the best of conditions while he was in prison, but that did not stand in his way of caring for others. Even though he was in prison, he did not spend his time lamenting, he did not go into self-pity; he seized it as an opportunity to be a bridge to connect others to Christ. As a bridge, he used his time in prison to convert Onesimus and connect him to Christ. When he discovered that they both knew Philemon, he also became a bridge to connect Onesimus to his former master, no longer as a slave, but as a brother in Christ.
In today’s Gospel passage, Jesus invites us to carry our cross if we must follow him. The cross is like a ladder that connects the earth to heaven. It is also like a bridge with which we can cross a river or a pit. Paul used his imprisonment as a ladder to connect Onesimus to Christ. He also used the same cross as a bridge to connect Onesimus to Philemon. Jesus began this process by using the cross to reconcile humanity to divinity. He was in pain and dying on the cross when he gave one of the thieves an express ticket to heaven. He said, “Today, you will be with me in Paradise.” My dearly beloved in Christ, what is the cross you are carrying today? What is the unpleasant situation you have found yourself today? Maybe God allowed the cross because he wants you to use it as a ladder to lead someone back to God, or he wants you to be the link and the means of reconciliation for some people. May God grant us the grace to never suffer in vain, so that our pains may be converted to our gains until we come to our heavenly inheritance, through Christ our Lord. Amen.