Building Walls and Tearing Them Down

I attended Mass last evening at the beautiful St. Francis Xavier Church in Manhattan, where my friend Joe Costantino is the pastor. Having spent the last year or so overseeing renovations to the church, Joe began his sermon with an observation about the process. Have you noticed, he said, that when the demolition crew comes in, it takes them no time at all to tear down the old structures. They come in, and tear down what has to be torn down, seemingly in no time. The reconstruction process however, he observed (looking around at the work that remains to be finished) always takes much longer than expected.

We are exactly the opposite, Joe suggested. We manage to put up walls with tremendous ease. Walls between countries. Walls between religions. Walls between family members. Walls between gays and straights….between men and women….between Republicans and Democrats…between rich and poor. The list goes on. The walls go up very quickly, seemingly with no effort. Taking them down, however, is a different matter. That takes much more effort.

Taking down the walls is precisely what Jesus attempts to do in today’s Gospel in his encounter with the Samaritan woman, Joe suggested. Talking to a women about theology…breaking down the walls between men and women. Talking about a future with no separation between where the Jews worshiped and where the Samaritans do…breaking down the wall between religions.

If the Gospel has any meaning, it demands that those walls, so easily put up, be torn down. The Gospel call, Joe suggested, is for unity in the midst of diversity. And Lent, he invited, is the perfect time to work on tearing down those walls. The perfect time to allow God to help us demolish them, for surely this is a task on which we can use the assitance of our God. Like a demolition crew, let’s look around at the walls that need to come down, roll up our sleeves and, with God at our side, get to work.