Robert Frost has an amazing ability to put real life situations into poetry. In his poem “Mending Walls” he tells the story of an annual spring time rite: rebuilding the wall between his property and his neighbors. He wonders about the need for the wall and notes that his apple trees won’t eat his neighbor’s pine cones; and his neighbor’s pine cones won’t eat his apples. Why is the wall there? Could they do without the wall? His neighbor has an answer for every question: “Good fences make good neighbors.”
There is something in humanity that does love a wall. We like separations that keep “us” from “them.” The “walls” we build are often walls based on sins. We think our sin is ok, but your sin isn’t, so we’ll keep you out. Paul goes through a list of those sinful attitudes and behaviors early in this chapter in Colossians. As he finishes the list, his admonition is to get rid of all of those behaviors, all of those wall building materials. Instead, we are to put on the new self in Jesus Christ. When we are one with Christ, there are no walls. Walls protect us from neighbors; we are family in Christ. “Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.” (Colossians 3:11)
In my early days of following Christ I remember reading one of the most interesting criticisms of the church by the Romans in the early days. “Those Christians! They love each other before they even know each other.” Yes, that was a criticism. Unfortunately, it seems as though some decided to tackle this criticism head on and make sure that we set up our walls. So today, we in the Church, instead of loving each other before we know each other want to make sure that “they” love Jesus the “right” way before we’ll accept them. In some cases, our walls will be called denominations. In other cases, we will build walls based on “acceptable sins” (ours) and “unacceptable sins” (theirs.) Oh, we have a great list of sins to use as wall building material, no doubt. And, to be honest, we probably see our weaknesses, our sins, in any list Paul might make – but we skim over them because those other sins are so much worse. To avoid being infected by those sins we build our walls and learn to hate those who engage in those sins. Even worse, sometimes our walls are based on ethnic divisions. If someone isn’t the “right” skin color or doesn’t speak the “right” language, we wall them out. When I was younger I wondered how older people could know Christ like I do; now I think that some of the younger people may look at me and wonder how I could even pretend to know Christ like they do. Age: another reason to build walls.
The message of the poem “Mending Walls” is not that good fences make good neighbors. The message is that building walls is sometimes an unnecessary exercise. From a Christian perspective God wants us to tear down walls. I am reminded that when Jesus was crucified, the curtain in the Temple was torn in two – breaking the barrier between God and man. God has not called us to build up walls in this world based upon our differences. God has called us to tear down those walls of division based on who we have in common: our Father God. If you claim to have a relationship with Christ, there should be no walls between you and your brother or sister in Christ.
Lord, we are all one in You. How often we build up walls against each other when we should be tearing them down. Help me to break down those walls between me and other Christians. Let the love of the Spirit guide all I do.