“This is my beloved son, with whom I am well pleased.”
This phrase came into my head the other day and I wanted to know which verse in the Bible it came from, the full context. So I did what any good missionary would do and I consulted my Bible, which actually means I asked Google to tell me where in my Bible I should be consulting. And thanks to the lovely resource that is the internet, I found that the phrase (or a likeness of it) is used multiple times throughout the Gospels (Matthew 3:17, Matthew 17:5, Mark 9:7, Luke 9:35) and once in 1 Peter as a reference to the Gospels. Now, I grew up in the Lutheran church, specifically at All Saints, where the pastor for the majority of my life (as well as our current pastor) put a strong emphasis on faith formation. It wasn’t enough for youth to simply memorize Bible verses during Vacation Bible School each summer. Rather, we were taught to pursue the cultural, historical, and literary context of our religion’s Holy Text. All of that to say, in literary tradition, when something is said repetitively, it’s usually important. The Gospels tell the story of Jesus’s life four times over because it was significant. For God to speak and say a variation of “This is my beloved son, with whom I am well pleased” over and over again is significant. But for my blog, I want to explore why it’s significant and what that means for me.
My first thought on this is inspired by my friend Kerri’s blog, where she discusses the truest form of love—God as human: scarred and damaged, imperfect and blemished. Though the scars from the crucifixion come chronologically after Jesus’s baptism (the event in which the verse above is most commonly associated), the concept remains the same. Regardless of the society-deemed flaws of the human form, God chose to embody it anyways and God chose to be pleased. Even back in the stories of Genesis, when Adam and Eve were formed, God said that what She had done was good. This tells us that Jesus isn’t the only person with whom God is pleased. God is pleased with the creation of humans regardless of the sins committed or the self-doubt we have about our bodies and abilities. We are loved, in the truest form, notwithstanding gender, race, sexual orientation, disability, economics, legal documents or anything else. And I have always been struck by how amazing it is for God to love people so unconditionally as Her children when I have friends whose parents have rejected them or attempted to change them because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. That’s something miraculous.
And then I attended orientation in Chicago before my year in Mexico, where I met Anneka, the girl who served in my site two years ago. We had a meal together one night and she told me “the family is so excited to have you. They love you so much.” And I thought to myself: that’s crazy. How could anyone love me when they’ve never even met me (and not be the inspiration for the next CSI or Criminal Minds episode)? But they did. I arrived in Mexico and I was loved. They are a family who is social and loves to party and have big comidas together and I am an introvert and a bit of a homebody who just wants to curl up with my journal in the quiet. And yet I am loved.
We recently attended the 6th birthday party of the son of one of my cousins. As I have come to expect at these parties there’s 3 groups of people: 1) My core group of family that I see on a fairly regular basis 2) the extended family that always comes to parties but that I see infrequently enough that I struggle to recall who’s who and 3) people I’ve never seen before that must be somehow specifically connected to the party’s guest of honor. I usually stick pretty close to group 1 and the 6th birthday party was consistent with that behavior. I do this because they’re a comfort to be around but also because I know eventually, I will end up talking to people at the party anyways because Mexico is a social place and groups love intermingling. I also do this because inevitably, someone from groups 2 or 3 will ask my mom or sisters “so who is this?” and I love waiting for the response. Sometimes it’s a simple explanation of me being a volunteer who lives with them for a year, but more often than not, they’ll look the person straight in the face and say “this is my daughter” or “this is my sister,” which is normally met with confusion and awkward laughter from the person who asked. If I had to guess, I’d say maybe my pale skin, light brown eyes, light brown hair, and height may be giving me away as someone who is not biologically related. And usually my sisters will then laugh as well and explain that their family has adopted me and four other people over the past 5 years. My mom usually laughs too and then just goes “yes, this is my daughter.” No further explanation required or given.
For quite a while after I arrived here, I had a fear of not being enough for my family. I constantly fretted over how I was spending my time, how often I was engaged in conversation, whether they seemed to like me, whether I was disappointing compared to the past volunteers, and further on into my perfectionist, anxious, people-pleasing black hole. Then, with time and practice, I started to get more comfortable and let myself off the hook a little bit. I took it to heart when my mom or sister told me they loved me before I went to bed and to take care whenever I left the house. And then finally, I realized that when my family tells people at parties, “this is my daughter/sister,” what they’re saying isn’t too far off from “this is my beloved son, with whom I am well pleased.”
Our identities are so entangled in our interpersonal relationships, whether we want them to be or not. Rejection can make us feel small and worthless, while inclusion can help us flourish. God includes all of us; those who have been baptized, those who haven’t, the believers, the skeptics, the ones who celebrate other faith traditions, the ones whose identities clash with societal norms, the ones who cross borders without papers. And I look at the world we live in, where my friends are rejected by their parents, where the people I meet at work are rejected by our government, where skeptics are rejected from the church and it’s easy to think that we are never going to be able to be the good, kind, welcoming people that God designed us to be. And then my family, who seems to be my opposite in every way, tells someone, “this is my beloved daughter, with whom I am well pleased.” And THAT is when I am reminded once again that God is present and that God is pleased.