We use words like suitcases, don’t we? We pack each one carefully depending on where we intend to take it. We fold, tuck and cram bits and pieces of meaning into our words until, after awhile, they get worn out. A zipper breaks or a seam tears, and we find ourselves in need of a new piece of luggage.
One good example is the word “family.” It’s been used so heavily in recent years that I think its days of heavy lifting are over. Yet we continue packing and repacking this word with meaning depending on where we want to go.
We are the family of God. We vote on family values. We focus on the family. Grandparents love to show off their families. My favorite example is the picture frame with the deceptively scripture-like words of inspiration revolving around the edge: “Faith, Hope, Love, Family.”
And I thought the greatest of these was love.
This passage from 2 Samuel troubles me because it lends itself so well to perpetuating the myth that biological offspring are the keys to God’s kingdom. That our hope is in preserving the family line at any cost. That blood is indeed thicker than water — even the water of baptism.
Friends, this ought not be. Not even when verses like this one are so plentiful in our Bible: “I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come forth from your body, and I will establish his kingdom” (2 Sam. 7:12).
We don’t need any more help in elevating the task of procreation. So let me offer an alternative understanding.
What’s going on in 2 Samuel is a magnificent reversal.
David plans to build God a glorious house — a temple. The prophet Nathan encourages him to do this. But then God speaks. God not only refuses to accept the gift David has planned, but he goes on to turn the tables, promising to establish David’s “house” instead.
How often are our own best-laid plans turned on their heads in the service of God?
David was a blood-stained warrior. He was an adulterer. He was a murderer.
David’s family line was far from the idyllic picture many of us have when we think and talk about family.
David’s family line was a mess — not unlike our own family lines. Thank God there’s room for the mess within the boundaries of the kingdom.
I write this as my wife and I are preparing space in our family for children born of another mother. Our journey with infertility has opened our eyes to new and refreshing understandings of what family means in the kingdom of God.
Our expectations and hopes for the future have changed. We’ve come to embrace adoption as a deeply symbolic theological statement.
The truth of the matter is, none of us was born into God’s family. Adoption is our story, not bloodlines or pedigrees.
For Christian people, when we think “family,” we should think first of church.
We should remember our brothers and sisters in Christ and the commitments we’ve made to each other in baptism. Enough throwing stones from the outside. Enough criticism.
Let us instead embrace the great reversal: The water of baptism is thicker than blood.
Let us imagine a place where misfits are welcome and false starts expected. Let us unpack the meaning of our luggage together with respect, with faith, with hope, with love, as a family united under the Lordship of Christ.
Patrick Nafziger works alongside his wife, Christine, as co-pastor of Millersburg (Ohio) Mennonite Church. He enjoys good coffee, good bread and good music. He occasionally updates his blog at mennonitemuse.wordpress.com.