Power Reversals

Rachel Bush

READ : Philemon 1-25

Formerly he was useless to you, but now he is indeed useful both to you and to me. (v. 11 NRSV)

A young man attended classes at an esteemed theology school. While he studied there, he fell into frequent conversation with the groundskeeper. Over time, they discussed many issues of faith, the church, and God. By the time he graduated the young man found that the groundskeeper had taught him more about God and the world than his esteemed professors, helping to train him as a leader in the church.

In most situations, we expect those with the highest credentials to be the most valuable players. But in the little letter to Philemon, we see our power hierarchy being neutralized. Philemon, the wealthy and powerful slave-owner, is not the only one who has found favor with God. Not only are we reminded of Paul's own worth, though an oppressed prisoner, we now also see Onesimus's worth, though a slave and a debtor.

The world's power hierarchy is neutralized, sometimes even flipped upside-down, in the kingdom of God. There, the last are first and the slaves become esteemed leaders in bringing redemption to the world. This reminds us that earthly power, wealth, and prestige are not the pathways to worth in the eyes of God, especially if they come at the expense of oppressing others—a truth we see supremely in the life of Jesus.


God, remind us that our worth does not come from our earthly power and help us to be among “the least of these.”