Before we begin the season of Lent (with Ash Wednesday on March 6) allow me to remind you of this Season of Light—between Christmas and Easter. During these weeks (when days are only slowing getting longer) we are called to follow Christ beyond our personal or corporate entrenchments. To remind us how difficult this can be, as February begins, last Sunday we heard the story of Jesus’ sermon in this hometown of Nazareth. At first, the community seems to welcome his message—proclaiming liberty to captives and letting the oppressed go free sounds perfectly fine to them. But the ensuing conversation devolves into an argument about insiders and outsiders and the next thing you know, the hometown crowd is ready to throw Jesus over the cliff!
The Apostle Paul, who planted many congregations throughout the Mediterranean world and who struggled to help them grasp the implications of being grafted into Christ, spoke powerfully about the importance of reconciliation which, at its heart, is about breaking down barriers so relationships can be restored. In Ephesians he writes: “For Christ is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups (Jew and Gentile) into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us.” And in 2 Corinthians Paul testifies to the God “who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation.”
With all our political wrangling about a “border wall” in our nation, I’m reminded of a poem, Mending Wall, by Robert Frost. In his words he takes us with him as he and his neighbor go through their annual process of “setting the wall between us” which weather, man, and beast have breached. In the middle of this exercise, Frost wonders aloud why they do it. “Good fences make good neighbors,” comes his neighbor’s reply. And Frost challenges: “Why do they make good neighbors? Isn’t it where there are cows? But here there are no cows. Before I built a wall I’d ask to know what I was walling in or walling out, and to whom I was like to give offence. Something there is that doesn’t love a wall, that wants it down.” In the end, Frost concludes of his neighbor, “He moves in darkness as it seems to me, not of woods only and the shade of trees.”
A good deal of the opposition Jesus experienced in his ministry—including in his hometown—had to do with how he pushed the presumed boundaries of God’s circle of care outward, so that it encompassed those whom law and tradition had walled out. When at his crucifixion the curtains of the Temple are torn in two from top to bottom—the last wall between God and humanity is breached. But we human beings are good at building and maintaining walls and fences. And so the work of erecting them in locations both new and old continues ad nauseam.
Yet, however much we find ourselves tilting toward the task of erecting or reinforcing barriers that would divide, Jesus shows us—and great poets remind us—not to mindlessly accept the convention of wall building, but to bend will and body instead to the task of their dismantling.
There’s a message in the Gospel somewhere if we can find it.