Many people are looking for signs that the Second Coming of Christ is going to happen soon. Tired of suffering, we hope that God's total victory will hurry up and arrive. We want evil-doers to get punished and removed from the world and from our lives and even from our thoughts. We want Satan's butt to get kicked the hell off of Earth.
Today, Jesus is telling us the same thing he told the Pharisees in the Gospel reading: God's reign is already here!
The Catholic Church teaches that the "end times" were initiated in the resurrection of Jesus and began when the Holy Spirit descended upon the earth and came to live in all believers. It's an era of mercy, forgiveness and love, an era in which we continue the mission of Christ, overcoming evil by letting Christ work through us with our own holiness. We are the Body of Christ on Earth and we are empowered by the Holy Spirit to do what Jesus wants to do, extending his hands and voice and activity through our own.
So why are we waiting for Jesus to show up? He's already here! We need to live as if his Second Coming is going to happen tomorrow, but instead of standing at the window watching for signs that Jesus is going to soon rescue the world from evil, we are supposed to go out and do the rescuing - in the name of Jesus and through the power of the Spirit of Jesus.
Instead of watching for Jesus' return to Earth, we're supposed to be finding him right now in the people of our Christian community wherever we can find them, and we're supposed to be Jesus with them, serving as a united Body of Christ to stand up against evil and minister to others whenever they are afflicted by evil.
This is the point God makes in today's first reading. This short letter from Saint Paul was written to a believer named Philemon whose slave, Onesimus, had cheated him and run away. The name "Onesimus" means "useful", and Paul took advantage of that to tell Philemon that the formerly useless slave was to be respected and compassionately reinstated in his job.
How many Onesimuses do we know? These are the persons who seem worthless to us and the people who have cheated us. We are to treat everyone as if we are meeting Jesus himself. Saint Francis of Assisi knew this, so he genuflected at the feet of each person he encountered. Does that seem too drastic? Well, we could at least smile.
The reign of God comes to us every day through every person we meet. If we bring Jesus into the encounter, the occasion becomes sanctified, holy. And isn't it interesting that God likes to speak to us through those who seem useless and ignorant! (He enjoys irony.)
"Welcome him as you would me" is Paul's invitation to Philemon. He is speaking the words of Christ himself, who says in Matthew 25 that what we do to the least - the very least liked of all people - we do to him. We must train ourselves to recognize the reign of God where we least expect to find it!