There’s a children’s story about a giant who was upset because some little kids decided to play in his yard. It was a lovely place full of flowers, fruit trees and birds. The giant’s yard was a happy place as the children sang and danced and played. The giant didn’t like the trespassers so he built a wall and put up a “No Trespassing” sign.
As the seasons changed the yard remained in winter. The birds flew away and the trees didn’t blossom. Hail and snow rattled the branches and covered the ground. The wall accomplished nothing except to keep out joy and assure the giant of his loneliness. To learn the surprising and moving end of the story, read “The Selfish Giant” by Oscar Wilde.
In the Old Testament we’re introduced to people who think of themselves as God’s people, God’s special elect, and God’s chosen ones. Their perspective on God’s plan led them to erect both a virtual and real wall around them to separate God’s chosen from the rest of the human race. These walls protected the clean from the unclean, the good from the evil, and the saved from those outside of God’s salvation. These walls crept into the Temple at Jerusalem; although God-fearing gentiles were allowed in, they were confined to a special court, separate from God’s chosen ones. But some prophets like Isaiah cried out for a different attitude toward gentiles. He envisioned foreigners participating fully at every level of religious life and worship. There are no walls in the prophet’s vision -- only a house of prayer for all peoples.
But divisions are not easily dissolved, and walls are difficult to tear down. For that reason, Jesus frequently addressed the separations that distinguished one person from another. Among his contemporaries, the Canaanite woman and her daughter, Zacchaeus the Tax Collector, the woman at the well, the Good Samaritan, the grateful leper, the Centurion and so many others would have been regarded as undeserving of God’s care and Jesus’ attention. They were supposed sinners. They were walled in by multipliable layers of prejudice, resentment and suspicion. But Jesus, who did not erect or respect such walls, saw them as God’s people and healed them in response to their sincere faith and hope. We meet them in the Gospel each Sunday and see them as models for our own lives.
Today, walls continue to segregate God’s people. While some of the most notorious of these have fallen, like the Berlin Wall or the Iron Curtain, others have been built, like the one that cuts through Palestine. Others, like the one along the U.S.-Mexico border, are in the process of being built. But walls are not only political; they are also economic, as in treaties and agreements that marginalize and disenfranchise people. Walls can also be social and emotional, as in the walls we raise against others who are different or unwanted, or who are deemed unforgivable and unlovable. Some walls are even self-imposed as a means of protecting ourselves from others or as a way to avoid being involved in the frequent messiness of life.
Now as we prepare for Lent it’s a good time to consider any walls in our own lives. Whatever the reason for the origin of the walls, the results are often the same. As in Wilde’s story, a walled-in garden soon becomes a desolate place. To avoid this sense of loss and isolation, we might do well to remember the wisdom of John Chrysostom: “What wall, strongly built with well-compacted and large stones, is as impregnable against the assaults of the enemy as a united band of believers, joined by mutual love and sealed by oneness of mind?”
Blessings at the Half Way Mark in Lent,