CAN you spot the connection between Moses, Muhammad, and Jesus?
They are all great religious leaders, all champion a monotheistic
tradition, and all hail from the Middle East. But there is a deeper
tie that binds them together: they are all, in some sense,
Moses was abandoned in a coracle, and had the good fortune to be
picked up by a pharaoh's daughter. Muhammad was orphaned as a
child, and brought up by his uncle. Nor was Jesus, according to
Christian orthodoxy, exactly the child of Joseph.
When most people think about adoption, they believe it is the
child who has been rescued, and that adoptive parents are the
redeemers. Yet, in three of the world's great religions, this
equation is turned around, so that the adopted child becomes the
redeemer, or the gift.
This is particularly true in Christian thinking, where orthodoxy
teaches a kind of double adoption. One human family takes Jesus to
itself in less than ideal circumstances; in return for God's
adoption of us by Jesus, we are ourselves adopted into the life of
The plight of Mary and Joseph, and the birth of Jesus, still has
a resonance in many societies. Bringing up a child that is not your
own is not a modern problem. Yet in close-knit communities, and in
previous generations, a child born outside marriage could bring
It is to this potential disgrace that adoption brings something
new: giftedness. Any adoptive parent will tell you that the real
winner in the process is not the child, but the one who has gained
It is sobering to remember that God's redemption, as portrayed
in the Bible, often comes through unconventional families. God
seldom uses "nice and normal" families to accomplish his purposes.
Time and again, he uses the unconventional, the marginalised, and
the ostracised to bring fresh revelation, breaking down old social
and moral codes.
Today, as in the Bible, families who welcome strangers into
their midst say something profound about the priority of humanity,
community, and personhood. The act of adoption marks us out as
individuals and communities for whom nurture is ultimately more
important than nature, whereby love and generosity transcend
In Christian orthodoxy, it is commonplace to speak about the
incarnation as some kind of risk. God's risk in becoming human -
thereby risking rejection and alienation. Moses and Muhammad
underwent different kinds of adoption, but each was also with
Yet, in each case, the risk was taken not just because someone
thought there was a divine plan, but because the risk was enacted
among a community of gracious human beings - an uncle, the
pharaoh's daughter, or a Palestinian peasant girl and her
distraught fiancé. This is not just about parenting: it is about
receptivity to the other, and a willingness to share your life.
Of course, this raises all kinds of questions about the limits
we place on the identity of a typical family. Some of these are
appropriate, to be sure. But there are also some that might stifle
some of the other fluid models of family life we see in scripture.
I believe that adoption is an active verb rather than a noun -that
each of us needs to look at how we adopt those around us who may
have needs, or may be dependent, whether they are related to us or
Adoption is not an isolated event that individuals once
undertook. It is a process of life in which all can participate,
and in which the desire to nurture is crowned by the willingness
ultimately to set people free, no matter how costly that may be.
Most adopters and adoptees would agree: they would say that they
are all the richer for it.
This is an edited extract from Thirty-Nine New
Articles: An Anglican landscape of faith by Martyn Percy
(Canterbury Press, £16.99 (
CT Bookshop special offer price £14.99 - use code CT153);