Guest Blog by Shane Claiborne
We live in a world of walls. We put up fences around our suburban homes and bars on our windows. We place razor wire around our businesses and churches. We construct walls to keep immigrants from entering our country.
Some are obvious: concrete and barbed wire. Others are subtle: picket fences and office cubicles; academic bubbles and gated neighborhoods; ugly looks and cold shoulders.
We build walls with language (four-letter expletives or academic jargon or liberal buzzwords) and with what we wear, whether the dress code is business casual or hipster slick or anarchist grunge. All these social markers create insiders and outsiders.
Nearly two million people in the United States are behind bars, the largest gated community in human history. Millions more are held hostage to security, racism, prejudice, and imprisoned by fear.
The land that Jesus walked now houses the most advanced wall ever engineered. Jesus wouldn’t be able to make his two-mile pilgrimage from Bethany to Jerusalem because of the checkpoints. The Holy Land, cradle of three faiths, is one big gated neighborhood.
But walls are never too big to fall. If the story of Jericho teaches us anything, it is that walls can always come down. Our God is a God of liberation, with a pretty good track record for setting people free. Some of us are being set free from the ghettoes, and others from the cul-de-sacs; some of us are being set free from the slums, and others from the shopping malls.
Old Jericho falls without a weapon raised—joy, trumpets, and dancing were enough to topple those walls. When the disciples marvel at the incredible stone walls of the temple, Jesus reminds them not to marvel too much, for one day those stones will be scattered. Maybe this is the meaning of the tearing of the temple veil as he died on the cross: God setting free even the stuff held captive in the holy of holies. God is not to be bound to a cross or a temple or a flag.
I love that heaven joke: It was a busy day there as folks waited in line at the pearly gates. Peter stood as gatekeeper, checking each newcomer’s name in the Lamb’s Book of Life. But the numbers weren’t adding up. Heaven was getting a little crowded. A bunch of folks were unaccounted for. Angels were sent to investigate, and before long two of them returned. “We found the problem,” they said. “Jesus is out back, lifting people over the gate.”
Jesus told a parable about a wealthy man who built a wall and locked the poor outside, a story often known as “the rich man and Lazarus” (Luke 16:19-31). Both the rich man and the beggar Lazarus (whose name means “the one God rescued”) die. Lazarus is saved, brought to heaven, and seated next to Abraham. The rich man finds himself in a lonely, isolated hell. He ends up asking God to send Lazarus on an errand of mercy for him.
It’s a story loaded with irony, sass, and imagination. One of the interesting things about it is that, though the rich man is very religious and knows all about Abraham and the prophets, his religion does very little for folks like Lazarus, starving on the streets. Ultimately, the walls we build not only separate us from other people, but from God.
In the story, Jesus exposes this truth about walls: they not only lock others out, but they lock us in. The poor are robbed of community and compassion, and so are the rich. The wealthiest countries in the world suffer the highest rates of loneliness, depression, and suicide. Walls lock us in a self-centered world and steal from us that very thing for which we are made: to love and be loved.
Ultimately, love topples all walls.
This was Jesus’ beautiful promise to Peter: “The gates of hell will not prevail” (Matt. 16:18). Yet even a cursory study of gates reminds us that their very function is to defend. They are no part of the offensive team, but rather are constructed around cities, countries, neighborhoods, and homes as a defense shield—usually because we are obsessed with security and possessed by fear. Jesus’ assertion that the gates of hell will not prevail is scandalous, suggesting that even hell and death have no power. Grace crashes through.
This is the promise we carry. The gates will not prevail. There are all sorts of gates and walls locking us in, holding us hostage. But we have a deliverer and a liberator. We should be storming the gates, hand in hand. The Book of Revelation tells us that in the New Jerusalem, the great City of God, “on no day will its gates ever be shut” (Rev. 21:25). The gates of the kingdom will forever be open.
Who are the people you have written off, locked out, or boxed in? Maybe you’ve locked out the poor. Maybe you’ve locked out the rich. Maybe there’s no room for a conservative at your dinner table, or no welcome space for liberals. When we storm those gates and bring them down, we will finally see that both the rich man and Lazarus are better off.
A few years ago, I was invited to speak on Veterans Day at a Christian school with roots in a historic peace church and known for its uncompromising commitment to nonviolence. It also hosted a sizable ROTC program.
My presence stirred up a storm of controversy. The social justice group printed T-shirts saying things like “Jesus was a pacifist” and “Who Would Jesus Bomb?” The ROTC planned to attend in full military fatigues and walk out. The walls were up.
We prayed, and the Spirit showed up. By the time we were done, all of us repented of talking at each other rather than with each other. People shook hands and it wasn’t simply a Pollyana-Kum-By-Yah moment. It was a crack in the wall.
On another campus, the young Republicans and social justice club couldn’t get along. They finally decided that while they might never agree on ideology, they could agree that God didn’t want people to be cold on the streets. So they started making blankets together by hand and then going down to the city and wrapping them around the homeless. An act of compassion can bridge gaps left by many old debates.
Jesus’ dinner table was open to tax-collectors and to zealots, religious elites and down-and-out women of the street. The Kingdom banquet is all about holy-trespassing and offensive friendships. It knows that no one is beyond redemption—neither slave nor master, neither oppressed nor oppressor, neither prostitute nor chauvinist. All can be set free.
As Paul writes, “Nothing can separate us from the love of God. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39).
And that, friends, is really good news.
Shane’s comments are taken from the January 2011 issue of the new CONSPIRE magazine, which is on the theme of walls and borders, and which Shane helped pull together. CONSPIRE is a magazine which is trying to build community and connect people while tackling some of the most challenging spiritual and faith questions of our times. It is supported by hundreds of Christian communities and individuals across the country. Check it out (and read some of the current issue) at www.conspiremagazine.com–and then become part of it.
Please note that the views expressed do not necessarily represent those of everyone associated with G92 or any institutions with which the blogger may be affiliated.
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