I have every sympathy with Lucas Hinch, of Colorado Springs, who as reported in this morning’s BBC News page, took his pc into his back alley and pumped it with eight bullets. “The computer,” observed the Colorado Springs Gazette, “is not expected to recover.”
As a Mac user I no longer have that kind of relationship with my computer. However, you may remember that I have a wholly (and holy) moral loathing of printers and all that they stand for.
My present printer, a Samsung laser, has been doing okay but I am not fooled, no way. I realized that it was just waiting its moment. And it saw its opportunity this last Sunday when I was running late for the 10.45 service.
So dashing in to print my sermon (I am always making revisions and so foolishly leave it last minute for the hard copy), it seized the day and jammed itself with eight pages at once. Thankfully, Jacqui seeing the situation, threw herself between me and my malevolent machine – and so it survived the axe, possibly in the spirit of Mr Hinch, literally.
So in having every sympathy with this Coloradoan citizen I was shocked to discover that he had been arrested. I had no idea that computers were protected in law. Colorado Springs PD even made a statement: “Mr Hinch got tired of fighting with his computer for the last several months.”
Maybe Dell hire lawyers to protect their machines from abuse.
However, it seems he was detained by the police for discharging a weapon within city limits. Now bailed, he is will be appearing at Colorado Springs Municipal Court. Mr Hinch has my full support and our complete commiseration.
So how does all this relate to Paul’s letter to Philemon, with just 335 the third shortest book in the Bible? In a very human and open-hearted epistle, Paul is appealing to his friend Philemon to receive back Onesimus, his runaway slave.
But after two thousand years of Christian values we simply cannot enter into the world of Paul and Philemon, our culture has shifted profoundly thanks to the Gospel. For the simple reason that in their culture slaves were no more than things. They had no rights in law whatsoever and were subject to the whim of their owner.
Many owners treated their total contempt, as subhuman. Spartan owners took pride in regularly beating their Helot slaves for no reason at all – just to make the point. Slave boys were regularly abused.
Escape was not usually a realistic option – you risked a cruel death. And so Peter writes to those slaves who had become Christians: “Slaves, accept the authority of your masters with all deference, not only those who are kind and gentle but also those who are harsh.” (1 Peter 2:18).
Even as someone as enlightened as Aristotle considered slaves as no more than living tools, just like Mr Hinch’s desktop . Some people, he said, were born natural slaves and ought to be slaves under any circumstances. Other people were born to rule these slaves, could use these slaves as they pleased and could treat them as property.
So when Paul writes to Philemon he is subverting this whole system. He urges his fellow Christian not only to receive Onesimus (the Greek word for “Useful” – hence the pun in verse 11) but to as “a beloved brother.”
Quaker poet Sarah Ruden, writes “The letter to Philemon may be the most explicit demonstration of how, more than anyone else, Paul created the Western individual human being, unconditionally precious to God and therefore entitled to the consideration of other human beings.”
So as we watch thousands of migrants drowning in Mare Nostrum we need to realize that these are human beings, made in the image of God and from my Bible study this morning, people “for whom Christ died” (1 Corinthians 8:11).
The cross of Jesus gives each of us a remarkable value – and that makes all the difference.