Break down the barriers

If you are from the country you can feel out of place in town. If you are from Bulawayo you can feel out of place in Harare. If you are from Zimbabwe you can feel out of place in Paris or London. The first time you leave home can be unsettling. We like to be where things are familiar and we feel secure.

So when Jesus says: when you have a celebration invite the poor, the lame, the blind and the handicapped, it is a disturbing call. Many societies bar such people from full citizenship. Scrolls of the strict Jewish community that lived in Qumran in the desert about the time of Jesus were discovered in a cave in 1947, and they excluded the deformed, the lame, the blind and the deaf – even those with defective eyesight (which applies to me!) – from the banquet in the kingdom of heaven.

Margaret Thatcher used to bluntly ask the question, “is he one of us?” when she was told someone wanted to see her. We can smile – but in one way or another we do the same. We like to be with people who are like us.

This is understandable but it doesn’t actually open us up to the prayer of Jesus “that they may all be one.” When the English first came to Ireland they built a wooden wall of posts (pales) around their settlement in Dublin, which became known as the Pale. So the Irish were “beyond” the Pale while they were “within” it. That was 700 years ago. The Israelis have done the same today. They want the Arabs to stay “beyond” them and our history in Southern Africa is riddled with similar feelings and actions.

We have not yet learnt to accept each other and let the barriers down between us. We find it so hard to listen to the words of Jesus: “do not be afraid of people who are different. Invite them into your life and listen to what they have to say. Do not reject them because they do not share your views or they come from another place or have voted differently from you in the election.” Do not build walls. Do not put others “beyond the pale.”

When the Americans say “get real” they mean many things, but it is an attractive expression. Ben Sira says, “the greater you are the more you should behave humbly … there is no cure for the proud man’s malady.” That is being real. To be humble is to be real, to have your feet on the ground. The poet Hopkins has a line, “generations have trod, have trod, have trod; and all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil; and wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.” “Nor can foot feel, being shod.” Maybe when we started wearing shoes we lost touch with mother earth! At any rate it is an apt image of division creeping into society. We lose touch with reality when we close our doors to others.

Post published in: Opinions & Analysis

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