By Elizabeth Baumann
A Reading from Ephesians 1:1-14
1 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, To the saints who are in Ephesus and are faithful in Christ Jesus: 2Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, 4just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love. 5He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, 6to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. 7In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace 8that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and insight 9he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, 10as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. 11In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will, 12so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory. 13In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit; 14this is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s own people, to the praise of his glory.
I can’t help remembering George MacDonald’s objection to St. Paul’s use of the word “adoption.” As I recall it, he said that since God made us, we rightfully belong to him, and are his responsibility. For MacDonald, it’s as if Paul is describing, not a child being adopted by strangers she’s never met, but a child being adopted by her biological parents. Except perhaps as an outlying legal situation, we can’t make much sense of it. I think MacDonald has a point. Christ’s work is, after all, a redemption and glorification of an original relationship.
Chatting with a friend who has a number of adopted children, I’ve learned that adoption as we know and practice it is almost always traumatic — for everyone involved. She was able to confirm my supposition that adoption as we know it and adoption as Paul uses it just aren’t comparable. In fact, adoption as we know it might have been nearly incomprehensible to Paul. Adoption in Greco-Roman culture was about choosing your heirs — often already adults. It has nothing to do with caring for children, and everything to do with passing on your worldly goods. So it makes sense that Paul speaks of us as adopted and also as heirs, chosen by God from before time.
Paul intentionally uses the word “chose” (v. 4). You’re chosen by a God who made you and hence knows you better than you do yourself. There are no surprises for God — he already knows all our darkness, our ugliness, scars, and trauma. And through Christ he makes us heirs. Heirs of what? Of nothing less than the very glory that Christ has won for himself. He became like us so he could bring us into his house, so that we might be like him.
Elizabeth Baumann is a seminary graduate, a priest’s wife, and the mother of two small daughters. A transplant from the West Coast, she now lives in “the middle of nowhere” in the Midwest with too many cats.
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Today we pray for:
The Diocese of Afikpo (Nigeria)
The Diocese of West Virginia