Throughout our conversation, she alluded to her identity. Intentionally or unintentionally, she defined herself. I wished her the best and moved on. Later, as I reflected on her words, I could not decide if she was attempting to impress me, promote her image or if it was her way of social interaction.
Yet somehow I knew that her insistence on emphasizing her identity spoke to something deeper. She was telling me not who she was, but what she believed others were not. I wondered, if I did not go to the same Ivy League school, did I meet her intelligence criteria? If I did not live in the same neighborhood – would I fit into her social class? If I did not believe in the same theological doctrine – could we share the Eucharist?
The answer is no. The sadness is that we are breathing the same air, living in the same community, sharing the similar journey. Yet she had built this set of walls that separated us. And she had placed me within one set of walls and placed her within a different set of walls. And walls are dangerous.
Closed walls inhibit fresh air and this leads to oxygen deprivation. You do not think clearly, you act strangely, your judgment becomes cloudy. If you close yourself behind walls, nothing new comes into your life. In our Gospel Jesus speaks of the dangers of closing yourself to others.
He is not only speaking of forgiveness, he is speaking of inclusion. He is telling us to love, asking us to accept, to break barriers and create openings in our lives. He wants his light, our light to penetrate all those dark recesses of our hearts.
Most of us have the natural tendency to spend time with those we know, those that we are most comfortable with. We share with people from our same social class, race, country or Church; and while this is o.k., if we never move beyond that circle, we unknowingly inhibit our Christian outlook.
We become comfortable and comfort limits our vision. We begin to see others through the same lens, our world becomes one-dimensional. And throughout the Gospels, Jesus tells us his Father’s kingdom is multi-dimensional. Move beyond our comfort zone and reach out to those who we normally do not let in, those we do not know, and those that are different from us. If we love only those who love us, how do we show Christ’s love?
I have a Christian family member who constantly uses the phrase “I am an American” or “love it or leave it.” I also notice how easy it is for him to categorize people as Muslims, Homos or Illegal’s. No understanding that many of God’s children live beyond his walls or the walls of America. The barriers he creates, makes it simple for him to see people as objects, different, easy to categorize, easy to discount, easy to ignore.
We are Christians and it is hard to imagine God placing a wall between divine love and humanity. God is constantly welcoming, inviting us into the divine presence. No secret knock, no special requirements for entry into his Kingdom. Only openness and a willingness to love God and love one another.
In this journey, most of us stumble into the Lord’s presence. Much like the story when one the most famous European orchestras played an outdoor concert. Elegantly dressed, world class musicians take their places. They precisely tune their fine instruments. The conductor strides confidently toward the podium; raises his baton, lowers it and then Beethoven’s Third Symphony.
The music is majestic, the notes join together to create beauty. Suddenly, a brown curious dog prances on stage toward the Orchestra. The mutt moves between the violins and the cellos, tail wagging in beat with the music. The dog weaves in and out as he looks at the musicians, the musicians in turn look at him, and they look at each other, as they attempt to continue with the next measure.
The dog stops in front of the Cello, and then continues roaming, listening and wagging. Finally, the music stops because the musicians and audience are laughing. The dog stops at the conductor’s feet, looks up and pants. A world class orchestra brought to a stop by a wayward dog. The conductor lowers his baton. There is quiet as the conductor turns; everyone is anticipating his fury.
He looks at the dog, looks at the audience and shrugs his shoulders. He steps off the podium and scratches the dogs’ ears, a tail starts to wag. The maestro speaks to the dog and the dog seems to understand. They visit for a moment, the mutt sits at the feet of the conductor, the conductor returns and the music begins once again. Life moves forward beautifully.*
Each one us are like that stray, and God is leading this divine symphony. In our journey, we walk onto God’s stage; and none of us want to be kicked off. We want to sit at the feet of God and listen to the song. If God had put up walls, we would never be able to walk among the music. Jesus is asking us to do the same with one another.
When Jesus left Nazareth, he did not take friends; he invited others into his presence. He had no barriers or preconceived ideas of who these strangers were, only that they were welcome. Come, follow me, and let me show you the openness of my father’s love. Everyone is invited into our lives and God’s stage. We break down the walls that separate us. We do not look at that maid as a simple worker, she becomes my sister.
We do not look at the Muslim as a foreigner, we look at him as a brother who seeks the same peace and happiness, we do not look at those who are ill as a burden, and we take them in as part of our family. Just as we are invited to remain guests on God’s glorious stage, we must invite others onto the same stage, into our lives. It is there that we feel the goodness of humanity.
We do not change the world by going out and moving millions, all we have to do is reach out to the person next to us in love. It is from the length of an arm that we change the world. Jean Vanier wrote the following: The openness to and respect for other implies a belief in our common humanity, in the beauty of other cultures, and in God’s love for each person. We are one human race.
We human beings are all fundamentally the same. We are all people with vulnerable hearts, yearning to love and to be loved and valued. This openness, which brings together people who are different, is inspired by love, a love that sees the value in others, through and in their differences and the difficulties they might have.
A love that is humble, vulnerable and welcoming. Peace comes as we approach others humbly, disarmed from a place of truth, not from a place of superiority. Not from a place with walls. What good is it if we only love those who love us, if we only care about those who care about us?
Open your heart; break down those barriers. Let’s sit together, on God’s glorious stage, strays of different colors and backgrounds, listen and prance around to the music of our mutual lives and mutual loves. When we dance together, when we sing together, when we sit at the maestro feet as one, we know love, and in doing so, we know Christ.
*Thanks to Max Lucado for the use of this story that is in his book: “When God Whispers Your Name.”