A few days ago I saw two cartoons which made me smile. The first was a little boy asking his mum ‘Am I adopted’ and the frayed mum, after weeks of home schooling, saying ‘I doubt it, I only put the advert in yesterday’. And the other is the same question being asked by a boy to his dad. And the father, rather cruelly, says ‘don’t be ridiculous, why would I have chosen you’. Now neither of these are in any way noble or holy but they struck a chord with today’s second reading in which Peter tells us that we are ‘a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a consecrated nation, a people set apart.’
It is the chosen nature that struck me. I have told you before how when I was about 13 I wanted to be an only child and when I was 16, I hoped I had been adopted, but not from the point of view of having been chosen, but because that way I might find I was related by birth to other people. Now don’t get me wrong I am not proud of this rather stupid and brattish sentiment but it does point out something important….being adopted brings you, by the choice of the adopter, into a new and untested relationship. All sorts of opportunities and possibilities are presented. In the relationship that we are invited into with the father, this is the case for each and every one of us. We are His adopted/chosen sons and daughters.
However, Peter goes beyond that. Not just chosen, we are made into a royal priesthood. In the Ancient world, those two statuses, Priest and King, were at the very top of any pecking order and here, his listeners are told, they enjoy that position. Many of them in their lives would have been anything but influential or significant or important in the eyes of society and yet the new relationship they are invited in to with God opens out a previously unimagined vista. But it is not about taking on the royal and priestly robes of oppression and ancient power; it is about emulating the king who served, the priest who sacrificed Himself.
These same people are consecrated, they are made holy by the action of God. Again, many, if not most, would have been in situations where they were seen as unclean or lowly or sinners and yet here, by God’s action, they are transformed. It does not matter what others might say or think or assume….God has said and thought and decided something different.
They are made into a people. This too is of immense importance. A people are only called as such when they are united and have a common heritage. The wonder of God is that He has taken a ragtag bunch of misfits and beggars, of losers and cowards, of the rejected and the lost, I could go on but you get my drift, and He has blended them, moulded them into a people. A gathering of people who look the same way, who look to the same goal and are inspired by the same power.
However, this union only makes sense if those within it understand that they have been given this amazing transforming grace not for themselves , not to gather and close themselves off. The setting apart is not to isolate but to enable. They are set apart, you could say, so that they have room to breathe and stretch their lungs so as to fully and worthily and clearly proclaim the source from which they draw their hope and joy and mission.
And what is that source. It is the One who declares Himself ‘The Way, the Truth and the Life’. So what would be His ‘Way’? Well, how do we see Him moving through His public ministry? He is always intent on welcoming the lost and discarded. He is always ready with a word of encouragement and forgiveness and love. He goes out of His way to enable the isolated to feel welcome and give them a sense of belonging.
And His ‘Truth’? Nobody is outside the reach of God; nobody should feel their lives are worthless; it is never too late.
And His ‘Life’? Well that one is impossible to encapsulate into a sentence or two. Over the last few days we may well have been thinking about relatives near or long distant past to whom we owe a debt of gratitude. We may have tried to recall them or find out more about them. After all, their lives, their actions and sacrifices, had a profound effect on where and who we are now. Well, if that is true of those men and women from 75 years ago whose memories live in other’s hearts how much more is there from the one who lived and died 2,000 years ago but, if we allow Him, we know can be more alive and more powerful in us than any fallen or forgotten hero’s memory.
We are chosen not because of us but because of Him. To return to my jokes at the beginning. To the first ‘Am I adopted’ ? God might say: ‘Always, and it is my joy that you are.’ And to the second, He might say: ‘Always, for I could not be happy without you’. Not quite so funny I grant you, but I hope, so much more true.