Something There Is That Does Not Like a Wall

Do you remember the poem  ”Mending Wall”  by Robert Frost?  It goes like this,

Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,

That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it,

And spills the upper boulders in the sun,

And makes gaps even two can pass abreast.

In the poem Frost tells the story of his neighbor who holds fast to his walls and his fences—the neighbor who says, “Good fences make good neighbors.

Frost doesn’t buy his neighbor’s claim.  He says again, “Something there is that does not love a wall.”

But what does “Mending Wall” have to do with Pharaohs and midwives and babies in the reeds?

What does “Mending Wall” have to do with a small group of people living in Rome and trying to follow the way of Jesus?

And, for that matter, what does “Mending Wall” have to do with you and me on this Sunday in late August?

A lot I’d say.

Let’s turn back to the story of the Pharaoh and the midwives and the baby in the reeds.

“Now a new king arose over Egypt, who did not know Joseph.”  A new king, a new Pharaoh, one who did not know Joseph—the Israelite who so long ago had filled Pharaoh’s bins with grain and his coffers with gold.  A new king arose over Egypt, a  Pharaoh filled with fear—fear of the Israelites, fear of “the other,” fear of a people growing strong.  One who believed “Good fences make good neighbors.”  A new king arose over Egypt, one who built walls of fear and walls of hate. One who turned his people against the Israelites.  A dealer in death and violence.

He tended the coals of insecurity; he nursed the sparks of prejudice; he fanned the flames of fear.   He said to his people, “Let us deal shrewdly with them or they will increase and, in the event of war, join our enemies and fight against us.”  “Let us deal shrewdly with them.”  There’s a wall going up.  A wall built with stones of “them” and “us.”

Then Pharaoh summoned taskmasters—overseers we might say—to oppress those Israelites with harsh labor.  Ruthlessly they oppressed them—working them, whipping them, degrading them–making their lives bitter.  Still the Israelites multiplied; still they spread; still they grew strong.  Their fears kindled, their prejudice growing, Egyptians came to dread the Israelites.  The wall became a wall of fear and dread.  Soon only violence bridged that wall.

One day Pharaoh summoned midwives to his court.  Midwives, lowly women, standing before the seat of power.  Midwives, lowly women, standing—maybe bowing, maybe even lying prostrate before the feet of the most powerful man in Egypt.  Midwives, lowly women,  there in the presence of the king over all of Egypt, there in the presence of the one Egyptians considered divine.

They hear his command:  “When you act as midwives to the Hebrew women, and see them on the birthstool, if it is a boy, kill him, but if it is a girl, she shall live.”

What a command.  What an order.  Commanding life givers to become death dealers.  What a thing to say to midwives whose calling it was to stand on holy ground where life takes shape and breath.  What a thing to say to people who are called to places where there are no walls.  What an outrage.  But there it was—an order from the most powerful man in their world.

Scholars say these women, these midwives to the Hebrews, were likely Egyptian.  Imagine that—Egyptian women raised to fear Pharaoh; Egyptian women raised to hold him in awe.

But something there is that does not like a wall.

Scripture tells us, “Those midwives to the Hebrews feared God.”

What does it mean to fear God?

Could it be that fearing God taps a deep desire to bring one’s life into harmony with God’s order?

Could it be that fearing God leads to crossing walls or even tearing them down?

“Something there is that does not like a wall.”

Those two midwives to the Hebrews—Shifra and Puah are their names—those two midwives to the Hebrews were willing to reach across walls—walls of politics, walls of race, walls of class, walls of religion and walls of language.

They weren’t alone.  There was another one turning over walls in Egypt—Pharaoh’s daughter.  She heard the command her father issued—the command to all the people, the command to throw every boy into the Nile.  And yet when she looked down and saw that baby boy in the basket in the reeds, she picked him up; she let him live.

“Something there is that does not like a wall.”

I once read that fearing God meant “seeing not categories or labels but only human beings made in the image of God—no matter how different they are, no matter how distant, no matter how much you’ve been taught to hate them, no matter how much they are the other.”

In his letter to the Romans Paul says, “Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed….so that you may discern what is the will of God….” In another of his letters Paul writes, “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.”

“Something there is that does not like a wall.”

There is so much in our culture that leads to building walls.  Our culture is rife with walls and wall builders.  People who spout lies and spit hate.  People who fan the fires of division.  We might as well put “Good fences make good neighbors” on the other side of our coins.

Yet you and I  we are called  to live a different life.  We’re like those midwives—daily facing choices between joining in the birthing of new life or snuffing out existing life.

Take a minute.  Think about all the times in the last week you’ve encountered that choice—the choice between seeking different points of view or enforcing conformity; the choice between sharing power or hoarding power; the choice between really seeing someone or looking past them; the choice between going on the defensive or birthing new possibilities for our world.

At the end of his life, Moses—that little baby in his basket—said, “I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses.  Choose life so that you and your descendents may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying him, and holding fast to him, for that means length of days.”

Moses was able to put that choice before his people because someone who came before him crossed a wall and made a choice for life.  Choose life—the future depends on you.  Choose life.




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