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.
Now before faith came, we were imprisoned and guarded under the law until faith would be revealed. Therefore the law was our disciplinarian until Christ came, so that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian, for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There 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. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.
My point is this: heirs, as long as they are minors, are no better than slaves, though they are the owners of all the property; but they remain under guardians and trustees until the date set by the father. So with us; while we were minors, we were enslaved to the elemental spirits of the world. But when the fullness of time had come, 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. And because you are children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God. Galatians 3:23–4:7 (NRSV)
With Christmas Eve on the doorstep it’s hard to stay in Advent until the sun goes down and we can finally say it is Christmas Eve and not just “Christmas Eve Day” or, more correctly, the last day of Advent. It’s too easy to think ahead to the cute little cherub choirs singing or the bells, smells and full-out organ accompaniment to hymns and carols everybody has sung for years and which officially ring in not only the day of Christmas, Christ’s nativity celebration, but the entire twelve-day season of Christmas. Stores don’t recognize the season of Christmas; Christmas stuff is almost all down and Valentine’s Day stuff is going up starting about 8:01PM on Christmas Eve.
I admit I think ahead as well; it’s hard not to, most of the time. But when I read the section of Paul’s epistle, something pops out at me and gives me pause: But when the fullness of time had come, 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 (4:4-5). God sent Jesus to be born as a human being, subject to the rules and regulations human beings were supposed to observe and still redeem (buy back, recover ownership, pay off) the world for God. That’s a big order to lay on someone who was born as naked and helpless as any other newborn baby.
The part that especially struck me was “that we might receive adoption as children.” Adoption is like grafting, taking something or someone from one place and placing it somewhere else where else. Adoption in Paul’s time and our own is a slightly different thing. In the Mediterranean world of Paul’s time, not only children but adults could be adopted. The usual reason now for adoption is to provide for the welfare and nurturing of the child while ancient adoption was generally to provide heirs for an estate and/or care for the parents in their old age. Still and all, the result was basically the same: the person which once belonged to one family suddenly had no allegiance to the family of origin but became one who was totally and legally a part of a new family with all the rights (and responsibilities) that membership in that family might entail.
Joseph knew about adoption. He knew that Mary’s boy was not his own child, yet he accepted Jesus as his own son and acted as his father in all the ways that counted. We hear some of that in readings that have this particular Joseph in them, but here is Paul speaking to the community at Galatia, assuring them that through this same baby who was born to human parents and was also the Son of God, all of them were considered not just add-ons to the family but full members with the rights and, more importantly, the responsibilities of that heritage.
Like Joseph, I know about adoption, only from the other side. Being adopted sometimes marks one as “different,” like when the child has blond hair and all the others in the family have dark. Very probably Jesus didn’t look much different than any other child of that time and place, which might have been a plus. Yet in the great family of God, the family Jesus brings together regardless of their families or tribes of origin, it isn’t the outward appearance or cultural status that marks a person as one who belongs or the one who is grafted, it is the desire and the sincere attempt to live as one of God’s true children.
It’s funny — Christmas cherubs are being replaced by Valentine cherubs, yet they are still cherubs. Both have chubby-baby bodies and fluffy wings and they both celebrate love. I wonder which are the adopted ones?