Philemon and his church were good believers. And they were kind. But they had a blindspot when it came to class and/or race. They didn’t know who Onesimus really was. They didn’t know a) how intrinsically valuable he is just because he was made in the image of God or b) who He had become in Christ. Now Paul begins to show them:
Having begun by re-reading Philemon in light of its protagonist Onesimus, the reflections continue using the three sons typology of Luke 15 as an interpretative tool.
These reflections on Onesimus and the letter to Philemon came about after I was asked to speak on the subject as part of a discipleship and outreach series. After an initial reading, I had a sense of what God wanted to say through the text. But in order to be prepared, I read the short letter to Philemon in German, Greek and eight different English translations. Several things struck me while reading and re-reading the text – not least that Paul and Philemon get most of the attention when actually Onesimus should be at the centre.
I don’t consider myself pedantic, but I want to take issue with overly simplistic readings of a very simple phrase. Many White Christians have taken a particularly keen interest in the statement “black lives matter”. More often than not this is to distinguish themselves from the Black Lives Matter organisations and its alleged Marxists beliefs. Regularly such wariness is accompanied by statements like “all lives matter” and “white lives matter”. Other accompanying statements include the refusal to “bow the knee to anyone but Christ”, a misguided notion which deserves its own post.
Contrary to the belief of some, taking a knee is not idolatry and is not in contradiction to any teaching of Christ. Indeed, taking a knee is a more Christian statement than refusing to. For all my misguided White and/or Christian brothers and sisters, here’s why:
With hindsight, I can see the subtle ways in which Vashti has been downtrodden in common readings of scripture. However, I have also read some shockingly ill-considered views from both men and women. What both the subtle and the blatant have in common is that they seek to pitch Vashti against Esther as if the point of the book is to correct all the women inside and outside the text. This kind of approach is hugely problematic (and sexist), but arguably its worst fruit is when it is repeated in the pulpit and propagated by preachers, continuing the diffusion of these errors into the wider consciousness. That’s why I have become less and less tolerant of such views.
Vashti’s refusal of the king’s command is arguably the climax of the opening of the book of Esther. Indeed, it was so revolutionary in the context that the king didn’t know how to respond. So, he did something that he does throughout the book of Esther. He relied on the wisdom of others.
Vashti’s refusal is the climax of her story. But is it an example of rebellion or assertiveness?
Some readings of Vashti are highly critical of her denial, suggesting that she was disobedient, rebellious or playing power games of her own.