I grew up in a neighborhood where everyone pretty much looked the same, went to the same schools, church, markets, bakeries, bank, park and so forth. It was a kind of Irish enclave. We followed with passion the Boston sports teams, most had brothers and sisters and everyone knew everyone else's family members, and their story. Anybody's mother could correct any child and hopefully would not carry out the threat to tell your mother. We never knew it was different anywhere else.
Later in life I studied sociology and realized I grew up in a classic ghetto -- and that is not a bad word! In fact it is a good way to grow up with lots of folks a part of your life -- a real sense of community. Jesus grew up in Nazareth, a small Jewish village in Galilee and I imagine it was a ghetto in every sense of the word. In fact at that time in history almost all folks lived in ghettos and this served as a way of mutually helping and supporting one another through hard times and staying safe against external forces.
The arrival in Jerusalem of three notable strangers, along with others in their team, would have been noticed immediately. And when the three distinguished foreigners started to ask questions about the whereabouts of the birth of a new Jewish king, everyone including King Herod listened attentively. This was a moment that would go down in history, the birth of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, had become known outside the ghetto -- and beyond.
The Feast of the Epiphany pulls us into the realization that our God sent His Son to be born among us, in fact as a member of a small minority people for them and in fulfillment of promises made to them through the ages. Furthermore this Feast makes clear that God's saving action is for all the people: in the East and the West, in the South and the North!
Growing up in a ghetto, as many of us have in one way or another, is such a good thing, in so many ways. It can also be an easy way to exclude from one's world others who are different. At its worst, a ghetto can re-enforce prejudices and bigotry fueled by ignorance and small-mindedness.
Every people of every nation know something of the struggles of prejudice. Even today the tribalism of some people leads to the slaughter of others and the divisions of peoples along lines of race, color, ethnicity and religion is nothing new -- rather it is sadly old.
Jesus Christ came to set us free for all of this and more! This freedom at its core is based in the God given dignity of every human person, without distinction.
At the birth of the Child Jesus in Bethlehem, The three Wise Men, from the East announced the dawn of a new and universal act of God -- to be among us as the sign of Hope and salvation for all humankind.
For this kid from the ghetto -- this was Big and Good News!
Father James Ronan is pastor of St. Mary-St. Catherine of Siena parish in Charlestown, Massachusetts