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Children at the Table


Copyright © 2004

Imagine being a small child at an orphanage. One day, one of your caretakers comes rushing to you as you play in the common yard. “I have great news!” she tells you, excitedly.

“What is it?” you ask.

“A wonderful family has adopted you. They’re at the courthouse right now and the judge has just declared the adoption valid!”

Your mouth drops open. You don’t know what to say because you are overwhelmed with joy.

“You aren’t an orphan anymore,” your caretaker says, as tears of happiness for your good news leak from her eyes. “You belong to a family now. Not only do you have a father and a mother, but you have brothers and sisters too! This couple has been adopting children for some time.”

You finally catch your breath and ask, “When do they come for me?”

The social worker’s face becomes puzzled. “Come for you?”

“Yeah, when can I leave this orphanage?”

“Oh, I’m sorry. I guess I haven’t explained. You’ve been adopted into an invisible family. You aren’t going to actually see any of these people. You are going to stay here in the orphanage all your life.”

How would you feel in such circumstances?

What is really horrible about much of American Christianity is that, judging from the practice of many, professing Christians think the ideal situation is to stay in the orphanage away from the family. Our adoption, our righteousness in God’s sight, remains invisible and intangible status we have in the world.

But this is not how Jesus preached the Gospel. Jesus’ was as much opposed for what he did as for what he said—and what he did that was so objectionable was welcome people to table fellowship. One of Jesus’ best known parables, the Parable of the Prodigal Son, is about a rebellious son repenting and coming back home to be forgiven and adopted by his offended yet loving father:

But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. And the son said to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.” But the father said to his servants, “Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate” (Luke 15.20b-23).

Forgiving and adopting the son meant treating him as a son, specifically by holding a feast in his honor. Yet Jesus did not tell this story as merely a picture of God’s love for repentant sinners. He told it specifically to defend what he himself was doing in feasting with “sinners”: “Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, ‘This man receives sinners and eats with them’” (Luke 15.1, 2).

When God accepts us as righteous in Christ his Son, he, in that very act, accepts us into his family. This means we are called into a fellowship of brothers and sisters. We’re called to sit at the table with our new family. We simply do not have the option of claiming that we belong to God and yet don’t belong to a family of faith. The Apostle Paul is quite clear that “the Church of the living God” is “the household of God” (First Timothy 3.15). Thus the Apostle John writes, “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen” (First John 4.20).

The Church in our day may not seem like much. It is made up of sinful men and women after all. But it is God’s family and we should value adoption into it. The Pharisees were portrayed by Jesus as the elder brother of the prodigal son who did not want to be associated with his younger sibling. We cannot embrace Christ by faith alone if we don’t want to embrace his family. Even though Jesus has ascended into Heaven, he has sent His Spirit to form and extend his family on earth. Through them, both formally at the Lord’s supper, and informally through Christian fellowship, he still eats and drinks with his adopted children.

Copyright © 2004

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