Walls have been in the news a lot lately. Walls have many different uses. Some walls are used for privacy, some are decorative, and some are used for security to keep people out of one’s property. Walls can be physical, and walls can be psychological. How you look at a wall depends on what side of the wall you are looking.
The only thing I want to say about the political wall in the news now is that good people can have honest disagreements on that wall. This blog is not about that wall. This blog is about the walls we build around us at different times in our lives; the walls that separate us from our neighbors.
I’m not sure at what age we start to build walls. I think it is at a very young age perhaps in elementary school. It’s when we learn we are not all alike. Some of us were better at playing the games on the playground, others were better at learning, while others were better at making friends. Once we decided who was better at what we started to build walls. If we were good at the games we migrated to the kids who were good at games. The same thing happened with the smart kids or the outgoing kids.
In high school the walls became higher. We had our own circle of friends (cliques they were called). We unknowingly were starting to build walls around our lives that would become hard to tear down. We seldom ventured outside our walls’ boundaries. Walls gave us comfort. We liked being with our own kind, people who thought like we did.
As we moved into adulthood we brought the walls with us. Not only were we now in possession of the walls we brought with us, we were building new walls. What were these walls? In many cases they were neighborhood, job, religion, color of skin, country of origin, money, and status. These walls can be the most difficult to tear down. They are ingrained in our lifestyles and in society. It is these walls that can hurt the most. Walls are built for various reasons and serve different purposes, but their function is always fundamentally the same: to create divisions, to prevent people and ideas from moving freely, and to legitimize differences.
TEARING DOWN WALLS
Tearing down walls is hard. As a follower of Christ do I have a responsibility to tear down the walls I have built in my life? I once read a quote from Bill Hybels, the innovative pastor of one of the largest churches in America who said, “I have never locked eyes with someone who did not matter to God.” He is saying that all people regardless of race, education, social class or background… matter to God. If they matter to God then they should matter to me. If they matter to me then I should tear down any walls I have created in my life.
Breaking down the walls in our lives will probably take us out of our comfort zone. We may not feel safe. We like being safe. Isn’t that one of the reasons we build walls? It is safer to stay behind the wall.
If I want to tear down the walls I built, where do I start? The answer is with Jesus. In my opinion it is impossible to read about the life of Jesus without understanding that his ministry broke down walls. Jesus came to tear down the dividing walls that were separating people. Before Jesus there was a wall between Jews and Gentiles. Paul, writing to the church in Ephesus, said in Ephesians 2:14, “For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility.” Perhaps one of the most direct verses in the Bible about the result of tearing down walls is Galatians 3:26-28: “You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
A vital part of the mission of Christ was to bring about racial, ethnic, and cultural reconciliation; a coming together of those who for centuries had been separated; a unification of all of God’s creation. There are numerous examples of Jesus tearing down walls. The story of Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well is one; the story of the Good Samaritan is another. Once Jesus was asked, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus answered in Luke 10:27, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind”; and “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus says we should love our neighbors as ourselves because He knows that by loving neighbors we demonstrate our love for God. God’s love for us and our love for God are the foundation of our ability to love others as ourselves. It doesn’t seem that hard, but it is in practice. Mark Twain once said, “It’s not what I don’t understand in the Bible that bothers me; it’s what I do understand that’s the trouble.”
The commandment to love our neighbor is directed to us. If we truly “love your neighbor as yourself” there is no place for walls. If we are honest with ourselves about following Jesus then we must be willing to break down the walls we created. It will take more than just words. It takes action. C.S. Lewis wrote, “Do not waste your time bothering with whether you ‘love’ your neighbor —act as if you do.” When we are behaving as if we love someone, we will presently come to love them. The kind of love Jesus talked about is not an emotion; it’s a choice. Walls not only separate us from our neighbors but also from the love of God. I can think of no better reason to tear down our walls.