The word ‘belong’ is defined as ‘being a member of or a part of a group or organization’. A sense of belonging is very important to what it means to be a human being. Belonging gives us a sense of identity, purpose, mission… the feeling of being loved. Belonging, in this sense, is indicative of relationship. This is what Jesus means when He tells His disciples – “you do not belong to the world”.
First, this section of John’s Gospel makes up part of the “High Priestly Prayer” of Jesus which He delivered at the Last Supper where He intercedes for His Apostles before His impending death. It is not a “death-bed” prayer but one that highlights the nature of His love – as one willing to lay down His life. And here, when He speaks of them in relation to ‘belonging’, the Greek translation is not ‘belong’ but rather ‘of’ … “you are not of the world…” giving us the sense that He is speaking about their relationship to the world and to Himself. He saying that their relationship to the world is dualistic. On the one hand, they must live in the world – provide for themselves, live under the laws of government, interact with others who are not like-minded, and so on… yet, they do so with a definitive look toward life beyond this world, with hearts and minds deeply connected to Christ – they belong to Him … giving them a sense of identity, purpose and mission that is not in conjunction with worldly affairs, attitudes and behaviors … but rather that they belong to Him… attitudes and behaviors that point beyond this world…
Perhaps, for many of us, we find ourselves identifying more with the world than with Christ and the Church. For many, life is driven by family, work, getting kids to one event or another, financial matters, relationships, sports, school and so on … It’s like this because we live in the world and it cannot be avoided. The practice of our faith, therefore, is important but kept in a separate compartment.
The language of Jesus’ words here gives us a tone of intimacy … a closely held bond that is deeply personal. That personal bond engages in relationship, that esteems one another … In a sense the Gospel today challenges us to think a bit more about our relationship to Christ and the Church vs our relationship to the world … with which do we more closely identify? What can we do to foster a deeper love for Him… how can we make it better or more fruitful … It means that we have to plug ourselves into those things that bespeak our relationship with Jesus … … it means creating a culture of faith in the context of our busy lives. It means being a part of the life of the parish, creating and maintaining an atmosphere of faith and prayer in our homes, acquiring the discipline and habit of personal prayer in our daily lives … read, pray, learn … this establishes a culture of faith within the framework of our already busy lives giving it new purpose, new meaning, a deeper sense of mission and sense of belonging to Christ, to His Church in a more personal bond of communion.