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To think that one of the most important human achievements in history was done in a Roman prison. Paul wrote a letter in prison and we are still reading it two thousand years later. Paul’s base camp was Ephesus. If you happen to be standing on the shoreline at Ephesus and look directly across the sea, you will be looking at Corinth. If you turn around exactly in the opposite direction and walk eighty miles, you will come to the Lycus Valley. There is a cluster of three cities nestled around each other. In one of those cities there lived a very rich guy who turned his living room into a make-shift church. This rich guy had a slave who committed the ultimate no-no. He ran away. He was smart to run to Ephesus so he could get lost in the crowd. It was there that he bumped into Paul. Paul converted him and baptized him into the family of Christians. Paul was thrown in prison, and the slave assisted Paul. Why did Paul need help while he was in prison? Roman prisons only provide room. They do not provide food, health care, or internet access. You need contact with the outside to stay alive. While Paul was still in prison he sent the slave back to his owner. Why would Paul do that? He needed the guy to help him stay alive. Why? So he could go back and get yelled at by the rich guy Paul wrote a letter telling us why. To fully appreciate what he wrote, let me tell you what I would have wrote if I was in that same prison.
I am in a Roman prison. It is filthy and overcrowded. I fear I am going to get very sick and die if I stay here any longer. Here are the facts. I did not kill anyone; I did not steal, and I paid my taxes. The only thing I did wrong is “like God.” For such a small offense, all I need is a little money to bribe the Judge. That is how things are done here. I hope you can help me so I can get back to my full-time job of bringing Christ to the world. Thank you.
This is what I would have written. This is what anyone would have written. This is not what Paul wrote, and that is precisely why we are still reading his letter in church two thousand years later. This is what he said in the letter: “Receive your former slave as your brother. I know he did you wrong. I know you are bitter about what he did to you. I know you will be pressured to follow protocol and punish him severely. But if you don’t give this guy a bear hug, then put sandals on his bare feet as a sign that he no longer a slave, put a nice ring on his finger to show him that he belongs to your family, dress him with fresh clothes because his newly baptized, give him a place of honor at your table, and treat him like your best friend, then you will miss out on the most extraordinary experience you will ever feel. You will be fulling living the life of Christ. What a great story that would be. And that story can happen because only because you are a Christian. So live up to your name.
Dad and I down the Cape and we drove by some exclusive homes along the oceanfront. Out of nowhere, Dad pointed to one of the beautiful homes and said, “I almost bought that house when you were little. They were asking for $60,000 and I offered 55. He went down on the price a little I went up a little but we did not quite meet in the middle so I didn’t buy it.” I was really surprised to hear this for the first time and he came so close to be the owner. I said, “That house is worth 2 million dollars now. Dad said, “Actually it is closer to three.” Why didn’t you get it?” I said. He said, “Back then it was a lot of money and I had five little boys at the time. I didn’t need it. To think my father could have been rich today with that investment but instead, he was happy enough with his five boys. That is a great story. And that is the point.
Sometimes we have the greatest opportunity in life in front of us. And sometimes the only way we are going to see it is with Christian eyes. When we live Christ’s life, we make great stories.Back to All Homilies