Dt 32-34, 39-40 • Rom 8:14-17 • Mt 28:16-20
Robert Frost, in his poem “The Death of the Hired Man,” wrote of Silas, a hired man on a couple’s farm who was not so dependable. He would move on to any better offer only to eventually return to the couple’s farm seeking work when other things had not worked out.
After a long absence, Silas returns to the couple’s farm, and the farmer, Warren, is none too pleased. Warren is sarcastic in imagining Silas’s empty promises to work hard once more.
Warren’s wife explains that Silas is in dire condition. He is dying. “Warren,” she says, “he has come home to die: You needn’t be afraid he’ll leave you this time.”
“Home,” Warren mocks gently, “Yes, what else but home? It all depends on what you mean by home. . .”
His wife says, “Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.”
Warren answers, “I should have called it something you somehow haven’t to deserve.”
All of us long for home, a place where we belong, a place where we are loved, a place of family. Nothing seems more painful, then, than to be kicked out our home. Silas did have a rich brother, yet to die he chose to return to the couple, not to his brother. It causes Warren and his wife to ponder what home really is.
For Warren’s wife, home is the place you can go when there is no other place to go, and you know you will be taken in. For Warren, home is the place you can go whether you deserve it or not. Today, on this solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity, we are invited to ponder what home really is for those of us who try to follow Christ.
Our passage from Paul’s letter to the Roman’s is not a text on Paul’s theology of the Trinity. Rather, Paul’s passage was written to draw us into the family of God.
To appreciate the depth of meaning of Paul’s teaching, we must understand how his audience would have understood kinship. The notion of kinship determined many norms within that society. Everyone thought and acted as a member of an extended family, which was far closer than today’s extended families. Individualism as we know it today simply did not exist. Honor and status depended on your family. One person’s dishonor brought dishonor to an entire family, while the honor of one increased the honor of all. Marriages typically occurred within kinship groups and usually fused two extended families.
Anyone not part of the larger kinship group was considered an outsider. Israel, which thought of itself as “children of God,” thus saw all non-Jews as outsiders. A person, even a Jew, without a family was a non-person. Females who were not within a family, that is, without a father, husband, or sons, were without honor. The notion of “widow and orphan” described all those who were not attached to a family.
Adoption was widespread in the Greco-Roman world, but not in Israel. Some scholars even argue that adoption was not practiced at all because bloodlines were extremely important. Although the Pharisees allowed a type of conversion to Judaism, the Sadducees did not because of their strict adherence to the notion of blood relation. Paul’s talk of the “Spirit of adoption,” therefore, was startling for Jewish readers. His writing about the Father, the Son, and the Spirit, especially with the role of the Spirit to lead us in such a way that we might be called “sons (children) of God,” invites us into a new kind of relationship with God.
The family of God clearly has greater honor than any human family. Even better, by becoming children of God we become heirs to all that Jesus left us. Even non-Israelites are no longer outsiders; even non-Israelites are heirs of Jesus Christ. “Widows and orphans” are no longer outsiders or “non-persons.” The Trinity teaches us that we have received a huge privilege.
“Abba” was a child’s word for its father, but it described an adult relationship as well. Many children today grow up calling their fathers “Daddy.” In the American South, adult sons continue to call their fathers “Daddy.” It is a word that is never used for any other man in the son’s life. It is a word that speaks of the place we call home, the place that will take us in when no other will, the place we don’t deserve but is available to us anyway. The relationship of the Holy Trinity calls us into this family and teaches us how to be this family. TP