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Charge it to Paul

August 29, 2016

My mother had eight brothers and sisters. There was about 20 years difference between the oldest and the youngest, so her five older brothers and sisters had begun working while the four younger ones were still growing up. Her brother Albert, one of the four younger ones, went to the neighborhood store when he was about ten years of age and chose some candy. When asked how he was going to pay for it, he told the shopkeeper “Charge it to Paul” (his older brother). He came home with the candy, and Paul paid for it.

In this week’s epistle lesson another Paul offered to pay a debt for someone who couldn’t afford to pay it. Onesimus, a runaway slave, met Paul in Rome about 60 A. D., while Paul was living there waiting for his case to be heard in court. As it turns out, Paul knew Philemon, Oneismus’ master; he was a member of the Colossian church. Paul sent Onesimus back to Philemon with a letter to arrange for his freedom. In his letter to Philemon, Paul prevailed upon him to treat his runaway slave, Onesimus, as he would treat Paul himself: “So if you consider me your partner, receive him as you would receive me. If he has wronged you at all, or owes you anything, charge it to my account. I, Paul, write this of my own hand. I will repay it.” (Philemon 17-19).[1]

Paul offered to pay Onesimus’ debt as Christ paid ours. Every time we pray for forgiveness, we are asking God to “Charge it to Jesus.”  Jesus told us that we can charge our debts to him—that was the revolutionary point of his death on the cross. N.T. Wright explains “When people allow the cross to shape their own lives, the love of God is set free to change and heal in ways we cannot at the moment even imagine . . . why should Onesimus be rewarded for running away? What has he done to deserve it? But that’s what grace is like. That’s what God’s love is always like” (Wright, Paul for Everyone: The Prison Letters (2002), Westminster John Knox Press, pp. 207-208).

By asking God for forgiveness and charging our debts to Christ, we are choosing life with him. We have two choices: life with Christ or death without Christ: “I have set before you life and death, blessings and a curse. Therefore, choose life, that you and your offspring may live, loving the Lord your God.” (Deuteronomy 30: 19-20).

Look to Paul as an example of Christ’s grace in action, and think about where God is moving you this week to forgive and facilitate reconciliation in your family, church,  workplace, or community.  Experience the grace of God’s forgiveness when you charge your debts to Jesus and offer that same grace to others.

Diane Cieslikowski Reagan

[1] The Scripture texts for the Sixteenth Sunday After Pentecost are Psalm 1; Deuteronomy 30:15-20; Philemon 1-21; Luke 14: 25-35.

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