Things that are “mine” are a big part of our lives. But an even bigger part are the people that are “mine.” Husbands, wives, siblings, children, and friends are all called “mine.” Even my teachers, my doctor, and my plumber join the group. What do we mean by this possessive? What does it mean for a person to be “mine?” For this cannot be the same case as that of my toothbrush or even of my dog.
A first proposition is that “mine” is an issue of “belonging with.” Spouses, certainly, between whom this possession of the other is most fully realized, belong together. But on second thought, this suggestion cannot extend to any more distant relationships. Children may belong with their parents and their siblings when they are young, but they must grow up and move out eventually (Gen 2:24). Even less do I ever belong with my plumber.
So a second proposition is that naming another “mine” is a recognition of dependence. “Mine” would mean that I have need of the other, whether for my happiness, health, or pocketbook. Usually, the relationship is reciprocal. This explains how the establishment of a contract makes someone “mine” (my lawyer, my milkman) and how I am to them “my client.” But this second proposition also presents its problems. It reduces our relationships to something that the other gives to me, and so this way of thinking could easily drift into selfish waters. A brother doesn’t stop being a brother if I choose not to depend upon him any more.
The first suggestion was that someone who is “mine” is someone who belongs with me, and with whom I belong. And this works great for spouses or friends, who have chosen to give themselves to each other. The second was that “mine” describes someone on whom I depend for something or other. This works fine for our relationships of use, where people choose to give things to each other, but it doesn’t do justice to the richer ways of human belonging.
So perhaps a third and stronger way for someone to be “mine” is for us to be given to each other by a third party. My brothers and sisters are given to me, as was I to my parents, and my parents to me. Even if I neither belong with them nor depend on them for anything, the relationship obtains and retains its meaning by something beyond my power. Even spouses or religious, who enter these relationships by choice, are given, whether it be to each other or to their community, in a way which surpasses their control and cannot be revoked. In all these cases, the third party is God. He gives us to others and even to ourselves, for his creatures are his to give. The fact that it is God, not only myself, who gives me to another in these relationships founds them on something more secure than my own will and allows these relationships to penetrate so deeply and to be so permanent.
From these thoughts, perhaps we can better understand the Lord’s meaning when he speaks thus: “I will be their God, and they shall be my people.”
Image: Michelangelo, Creation of Eve