When I was growing up I longed to belong somewhere. My father was a petroleum geologist, and his work took him all over the western U.S. As the result, between birth and graduation from high school I lived in a dozen communities, and because I was naturally introverted, I didn’t make friends easily. I was often alone, and unknown to those with whom I went to school and church.
Later I would learn that belonging is often not the blessing I thought it was. Towns can have strong prejudices against members who are different, shunning and tormenting them. This behavior reinforces the collective sense of what is normal and correct. Home-town kids pegged as troublemakers, as “stupid”, or as strange in some way had to grow up in the prisons of their communities’ expectations of them.
In today’s reading from the Gospel of Luke, we can imagine that this dynamic is playing out between Jesus and the people who have known him since he was a child. They want to place him in the context of his family and their community, telling one another that he is familiar to them, that he belongs and will only behave in the ways he has always behaved, be the person they have always known him to be. This, understandably, irks Jesus.
But there is a deeper invitation at work as well. Jesus is calling his community to go beyond their understanding of themselves, of him, and of God. He wants them to do this for the good of the world. He is the anointed one, bringing good news and release and sight to everyone who needs these things. He beckons his people to come along with him, to step out of their preconceived notions into a world in which they are strangers and foreigners. He wants them, like Naaman and the widow of Zarephath, to open themselves to the astounding miracle of God’s love. If they do this, they will become servants of Love.
To whom do we really belong? Is it not to God? Why, therefore, allow ourselves to be defined by family and community expectations? Why not step off the precipice of certainty into the arms of the Beloved?
Where does belonging to a community limit you? Is it in what you have learned you are capable of? Is it in how everyone thinks you ought to be employed? Is it in the language you use to describe the Holy? Is it in not reaching high enough? Is it in reaching toward the wrong things?
What does God call you to? What occupation or strength or skill or proclivity have you always yearned to explore? God whispers to you in your hidden longings. Honor the stranger, the foreigner who lives in your heart. You belong to God.
Laurie Gudim is a religious iconographer and writer living in Fort Collins, Colorado. For more information and to see some of her images, visit everydaymysteries.com.