Here is the second reading for this coming Sunday, the twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time:
"I, Paul, an old man,
and now also a prisoner for Christ Jesus,
urge you on behalf of my child Onesimus,
whose father I have become in my imprisonment;
I am sending him, that is, my own heart, back to you.
I should have liked to retain him for myself,
so that he might serve me on your behalf
in my imprisonment for the gospel,
but I did not want to do anything without your consent,
so that the good you do might not be forced but voluntary.
Perhaps this is why he was away from you for a while,
that you might have him back forever,
no longer as a slave
but more than a slave, a brother,
beloved especially to me, but even more so to you,
as a man and in the Lord.
So if you regard me as a partner, welcome him as you would me."
-Philemon 9-10, 12-17 (NAB)
Anyone who has read St. Paul's letter to Philemon knows how wonderful it is. Sure, it can be easily missed, comprising barely one page in most Bibles, tucked between Titus and Hebrews. But even though it is Paul's shortest letter, it remains both charming and informative. In this letter we witness the love which Paul has for his spiritual brothers, Onesimus and Philemon. We also are able to read how Paul can be a master persuader, see 17-21.
However, I have one major problem with this Lectionary reading. I have no idea why those who put together the Sunday Lectionary did not include the entire letter. Length of the reading is certainly not an issue in this case. Don't get me wrong, I think the three year Sunday Lectionary was one of the best fruits of the Second Vatican Council, but every once in a while there are times when I wish they would have gone a little farther and included more of the sacred text in the reading.
In many ways, they have left off one of the best verses in the entire letter, verse 11:
"Formerly he was useless to you, but now he is indeed useful both to you and to me." (NRSV).
Absent in this Sunday's reading is Paul's clever double pun on the name Onesimus, which means useful. Ah? Why?
In addition, they chopped off the end of the letter where Paul reminds Philemon that he owes him "even your own self. (19)" Paul shows both his brotherly love and his authority as pastor. It is a masterful, short letter by Paul, which should be read in it's entirety.