The world into which Saul of Tarsus was born was a world in which people were divided into two camps: the Jews -- that is, the chosen people of God, the ones to whom God had been revealed, the ones to whom all the promises of Hebrew Scripture had been made -- and the Gentiles -- that is,everybody else. In this world, the Jews were "us," and the Gentiles, clearly, were "them."
Some things don't seem to change. Nineteen hundred years later, the English writer Rudyard Kipling said, "East is east, and west is west, and never the twain shall meet," and he wasn't just making that up. He was reflecting the reality of the world in which he lived. Could it be that there is something deep in human nature that makes us want to divide the world into "us" and "them," that causes us to choose up sides, to draw dividing lines, to build up walls?
There are so many ways in which we do this! In some places it's about the color of your skin; in others it's about which side of the tracks you come from. Maybe it's about Protestant versus Roman Catholic, Christian versus Muslim, immigrant versus native born, labor versus management, rich versus poor. We're asked to declare our political party affiliation and even which major league baseball team we prefer. It's still a world of "us" versus "them."
We humans are good at building walls, tangible and intangible ones. Some of them have names: the Iron Curtain, the Berlin Wall. Some are unnamed but just as real. There they are, and woe to the one who tries to come to the other side.
However, this is not the way of Jesus Christ. In the letter to the Ephesians today we read, "...he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us."
Some of us remember President Reagan's speech in Berlin where he delivered his famous challenge to the Russian leader of that time: "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!" If we want to be followers of Jesus Christ, we will be wall-destroyers, not wall-builders.
"Something there is that doesn't love a wall," wrote the great American poet Robert Frost. We might say, rather, someone there is who doesn't love a wall, and that someone is Jesus Christ himself, the one who came to break down the dividing walls of our world. It is up to us to continue that work; to break down those walls wherever we see them and to be careful lest we contribute to building or even maintaining them. We need to examine our lives and our hearts to find those invisible but very real barriers that we can so easily erect between ourselves and our fellow human beings.
"East is east and west is west, and never the twain shall meet," just isn't the reality in the world we must inhabit as Christians. As St. Paul writes in the letter to the Galatians, "There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female, for all of you are one in Christ Jesus." (3:28) In a world that constantly encourages the "us versus them" mentality, the Christian message is that there is no "them." There is only "us" -- all of us, right here in the same boat, members of the same body with Christ as the head. He has created, Paul says, "one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace," and has also reconciled all of us to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through that cross. For he is our peace.
Let us pray: O God you have made of one blood all the peoples of the earth, and sent us your blessed Son to preach peace to those who are
far off and to those who are near: Grant that people everywhere may seek after you and find you; bring the nations into your fold; pour out your Spirit upon all flesh; and hasten the coming of your kingdom; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.