—Philemon 15-16 (NASB)
Here we have a real-world example of the Prodigal Son. Onesimus rebelled against Philemon his master. In fact, he committed crimes in the course of his rebellion and ran away, never intending to return. Granted, restitution for said crimes may have been warranted, but Paul is reminding us that there are greater things at work than merely the actions between men — men’s actions according to God’s love and grace.
Philemon had every right to be hurt and even demand justice and repayment from a worldy point of view. But Onesimus was not returning as one who was sorry only in that he was caught, he was returning having learned lessons that Philemon had always wanted him to learn. It’s the same as a parent who wishes that a child doesn’t have to go off and experience sin for themselves, but rejoices when they work through their disobedience and return with a right heart.
How are we prepared to receive back those who have wronged us that have experienced spiritual awakening in the process? Are we more happy for the eternal end result than in the temporal loss previously incurred? Perhaps this is the “hope” we can focus on for those who have betrayed and left us and, for now, look like they’ll never return. I hope there’s no one I’m preventing from returning to me because there’s even a hint of my greater concern for personal restitution than for the shared joy of their spiritual renewal.†††