I moved to New York a year and a half ago to go to graduate school at Sarah Lawrence College. After I moved, I interviewed and got a part time job writing for a social service agency. When I was hired, I was given a Welcome Bag with a mug, key chain and pens with our agency’s logo on it. I felt like I was being invited onto a new team, and I was happy to belong. As our team has gotten bigger, we have outgrown our space in the building we work at. Because I am part time, my spot was given to a new full time staff member. Now, when I come to work, I have to walk around looking for an open place to set up my laptop. I have no desk or phone, no place that I know will be there waiting for me. This is nothing more than a minor annoyance, yet it makes me think of the human need to belong. It is just a desk, a phone and a chair that have made me feel a little on the outside of things. But it was just a mug, a key chain and a pen that made me feel like I belonged. We want to be a part of something bigger than ourselves so much as humans, that outward signs of that belonging become very important.
What do you belong to? Does that belonging make you proud? Would a stranger be able to know what you belong to by your outward signs or by your actions? High school is an important time to join movements that are bigger than ourselves. That belonging affects our identity formation and helps us feel safe and supported. Do you have a letter jacket or school T-shirt with your club name on it? Do you wear a cross around your neck? Do you decorate your backpack with buttons? Your name tells me what family you belong to, your books may reveal what classes you belong to. Belonging to groups we are proud of and claiming that belonging is a beautiful way to celebrate that God created us to be social people. We can get and give a sense of intimacy and family from that belonging.
As wonderful as that belonging is, not belonging is just as painful. The Gospel this week is hard for me to read. Jesus is not surprised at how he is received in his hometown, but Jesus is fully human. He must have been a little sad and disappointed that he was not welcomed home to a place where he should have felt a sense of belonging. The people who join Homeboy Industries used to belong to gangs, which is some of the most fierce and loyal belonging there is. Father Greg must offer these young people a new sense of belonging because it is scary to leave and not belong to such an entrenched group to work toward a new life. Part of Homeboy Industries is tattoo removal– changing their outward signs of belonging. Father Greg sees the people he serves as on the margins of society. They don’t yet belong, but they want to. He knows that is where he needs to be because that is where Jesus is, on the margins. In the Gospel this week, we see Jesus’ marginalization at the hand of his hometown. The work of the Gospel is, in part, welcoming people on the margins into the center of things to give them a sense of belonging in God, who loves us all.
Let’s think this week about the groups we belong to and the outward signs of that belonging. Are these communities that we are proud to be a part of? Who in our lives are on the margins and feeling like they don’t belong? Where is Jesus in our midst?