Free, but not without cost
Life in Christ is free, but not without cost
Last weekend our Gospel reading in Luke 14 was very challenging as Jesus called his disciples to put him number, even ahead of family, ahead of country, ahead of work, ahead of self. For a disciple to not put Jesus first, would be like salt without saltiness or a basketball without bounce, to not put Jesus first would cause the loss of the very thing that sets us apart from people who don’t follow Jesus.
Interestingly, after I had preached the sermon at family church one of our friends observed that the first reading, which was the letter of Philemon, really was a perfect example of what putting Jesus first into action looked like in the first century. I agree with his observation. The short hand version of the background to Philemon goes like this. Paul was in prison, somehow he meet Onesimus, who became a Christian through Paul and began helping Paul out while he was in prison. It turns out however that Onesimus was a runaway slave who’s master was Philemon, who coincidentally had also became a Christian through Paul’s ministry.
In the letter the Philemon we see obedience to Jesus begin to work itself out.
Paul, if he had allegiance to the state and societies views, would have handed runaway Onesimus into the authorities straight away to be executed. But no, Paul looks to restore Philemon and Onesimus. So firstly, Paul breaks the social code expected in the handing in of a runaway slave, next he calls Philemon to forgive and restore Onesimus beyond the master slave relationship to that of brothers.
To each person in this passage there is a cost involved to putting into practice the teachings of Jesus. Paul’s historic cost is obvious, he is in prison. Philemon’s cost of following Jesus is to forgive a slave for running away (who likely stole from him) without retribution, but more than that, to accept Onesimus back as a restored brother in Jesus. Onesimus cost is to face up to his actions and potentially carry on in his socially difficult position as a person who is bound under the authority of another. (I am not condoning slavery)
From the letter we don’t know what Philemon’s response to Paul was, whether he did forgive Onesimus or not, or whether Onesimus was sent straight back to Paul by Philemon to continue his work of helping Paul in prison (which Paul hinted at as a good option).
I see in the Philemon letter and Luke 14, the reality that being a disciple of Jesus means that we follow the beat of Jesus drum and not just our own personal preferences or the norms that society expects. This might cost us, yet I am convinced that when we follow him, we will find ourselves living lives that are full of life, that we will be more fully human as we enact his amazing upside down ways. It turns out though, his ways are right way up. May our following of Jesus be as effective as pure salt and may we see the outcomes of this following as it changes and transforms us, our family, our cities and our world.