Now before faith came, we were imprisoned and guarded under the law until faith would be revealed. 24Therefore the law was our disciplinarian until Christ came, so that we might be justified by faith. 25But now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian, 26for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. 27As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. 29And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring,* heirs according to the promise. 4But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, 5in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children. 6And because you are children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our* hearts, crying, ‘Abba!* Father!’ 7So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God.* - Galatians 3:23-29, 4:4-7
Paul has written one of those passages that seem to click with a lot of people, me among them. "There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female. . ." is one of the most profound statements of Paul's message. It is interesting that Jew and Greek as well as slave and free are connected by the word or but male and female have and between them. It denotes an equality that we're still trying to work out. It is a hopeful statement, with a lot of promise.
But then I come to "God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children." Every time I read this passage I have to stop at that last phrase. It's like the needle on the record stops and I have to go over it and over it again and again until someone, God perhaps, nudges the needle to the next groove so that I can go on. It all stems with the word "adoption" because I was an adopted child.
Adoption in Paul's time was a common thing, just like it is now, with similar methods of going about it and even some of the same wording on the final decree that makes it legal. A child (or, in Paul's time, even an adult) was adopted and from that time forward all ties and claims to the birth family were severed and the person was considered as much a part of the adoptive family as a child of their own blood would be. It was a good thing for the adoptive parents because there would be someone to care for them in their old age as well as inherit their wealth and property but most importantly, their immortality would be assured since their name would continue on in new branches of the family tree. For Paul, acknowledging Jesus as the Son of God dissolves our ties and claims to earthly things like sin and makes us co-inheritors of the kingdom of God. We become heirs to the promise God made to Abraham, even if we aren't blood kin. And all we have to do is accept the grace of it, which is a lot easier sometimes than accepting that you don't look like anyone in the family or that you have two fathers.
Paul lived in a time when blood was a very important thing. A number of the rules of the Old Testament like who could marry whom or who could inherit what and how much of it were based on blood kin and birth order. The rules were put in place to ensure that the wrong person didn't inherit something to which they were not entitled. Haven't we seen that enacted in the courts in recent years? Yet adoption said that relationship could be more important than blood. A piece of paper could change a relationship so that a person totally unrelated to them in any way could be considered a full member and inherit the lot. There was to be no difference between blood and adopted kin. Yet today there are still children stigmatized by their peers and sometimes looked down upon by adults because they are adopted and thus are somehow seen as not quite so good as the family tree upon which they have been grafted.
I've never really understood why our adoption as heirs of Abraham was so important. God created us and we are all called God's children, right? God has lots of children including some who call God by a different name or who pray in a different languages or have different color skin or live in some other place, no? So why are we so busy separating the blood kin from the adopted ones in our society and even our faith? Is an Episcopalian more acceptable to God than a Southern Baptist? If a Seventh-Day Adventist calls on God, is that any less valued or acceptable than if done by a Roman Catholic? Are Christian prayers and claims on the family more correct than Jewish or Muslim ones? Are People of the Book more loved by God than Hindus, Buddhists, or even atheists? If God had a refrigerator, whose pictures would be on it? I like to think God's refrigerator is big enough to hold a picture of every person on earth and every person who has now departed this life at any point in time. Is it adoption or is it just acknowledgement of the relationship that is important?
Paul often gives me headaches, and today's reading is no different. I'm still the birth child of my father (may he rest in peace) and the adopted child of my adoptive family (may they rest in peace as well). Above all, I'm God's kid because God chose me to have a relationship and I have accepted that, even if it is a bit tentative on my part because I don't feel good enough or close enough or even important enough for God to care. I don't think it matters a whit to God; the relationship is there, whether or not I am always conscious of it. I'm still wrapping my mind around the fact that my picture's on God's refrigerator and on God's desk as well.
Originally published at Speaking to the Soul on Episcopal Café Saturday, January 11, 2014.