Ezekiel 33: 7-9; Romans 13: 8-10; Matthew 18: 15-20
During the 2008 campaign we often heard from Sarah Palin about the “bridge to nowhere”. It was part of her shtick to prove the point of the ineffectiveness of the federal government, building a bridge that went nowhere just to benefit a few. There are others like it where you can be driving along and all of a sudden if you try to continue you’d end up hitting a wall. I tried to think of an example closer to home and all I could come up with is, that if you’re a regular driving around here you know that most of the roads from Homeland are One Way out. All of it begins to send a message over time as the bridge to nowhere does. Bridges to nowhere, one way out, walls, it’s what we tend to be good at in our lives. It should be no surprise that we’d want to build walls rather than deal with the burning issues of our day. It’s much easier than reconciling our differences and finding common ground.
Building community is no easy task. Matthew is quite aware of that with all his community faces, including their own divisions, but we also know it from our families and any relationships we have been in and have experienced in their breaking apart. So often we have to have mediators come in to work with people because we become so attached to being right, to knowing it all, to our certainty, to the other being absolutely wrong, when we know that there is often truth on both sides. Mediators can often help sort out the truth and sift through the conflicts to find that reconciliation. It doesn’t mean we always get what we want. As a matter of fact, there often has to be a willingness to give up and surrender things for the good of the community in order to get to the other side and build bridges that go both ways. We too often become comfortable building bridges only to those we feel we can tolerate, leading to the bridge to nowhere, to only people we can somewhat agree on, tribal thinking as we often see in our own society and certainly our politics..
Ezekiel was one such mediator. He saw his role as the watchman of his community. He had to be the one that stands in the middle, seeking the truth when conflict would arise, when people were abusing power or excluding others. God reminds him of the immense responsibility that comes with such a task and the consequences when there’s not a willingness to be truthful about what he sees and experiences. He becomes the one who has a keen sense of awareness in the life of the community to see where bridges between the oppositions can be made and what needs to be let go of in the process. He’s the one that stands above, watching from the watchtower, to not lead them into the traps of bridges to nowhere, one ways, or walls, but rather to a richer sense of community.
It’s no easy task as we’ve heard from Matthew the past few weeks. It’s quite the challenge when there is conflict and one can’t see the others perspective and not even willing to understand. Matthew lays out a plan for dealing with such conflicts to hopefully lead to reconciliation but even he knows that that’s not always possible. He realizes some will choose to not be a part of the community, such as tax collectors and Gentiles. Of course, they have their own reasons to separate themselves from the life of the community and quite frankly, many had reasons why they didn’t want them to be a part of the community. There were plenty that would be considered intolerant of them. At times it seemed insurmountable to think that a bridge that goes between could ever be built. However, Matthew, time and again, will remind them that it is no longer the prophet who stands as mediator but Christ who stands as love. The gap could only be closed when love stands as mediator and we could see the other as brother and sister, as neighbor, no matter color, economic status, place of origin, or whatever other means that we used to build our bridges to nowhere and erect walls.
The heart of the readings is Paul’s letter to the Romans. He puts it so plainly that we must love our neighbor as ourselves. Love does no evil, he goes onto say. When we live our lives and grow community around love, around Christ, it finds ways to move from what is often superficial ways of separating ourselves to uniting us around a single purpose, around a single person in Christ. Reconciling our differences and conflicts is hard work. It’s the reason why we live in a world where war is never-ending and a constant state of chaos and conflict. We get so hung up on our own way of things and thinking we’re right, prideful, that there’s no room for love to break us down and see ourselves as brother and sister, as one with our neighbor. We don’t choose who gets to be our neighbor, mindful that I am a neighbor just as you are and we’d want to be treated with love and respect as the next one.
Yes, it is all easier said than done. We do prefer walls and bridges to nowhere, and even one ways out so we determine it all and we use ourselves as the center of our lives, avoiding conflict and settling for less in life. However, to be community and to call ourselves community, we often have to go where we have conflict and where we have made judgments and misunderstandings of each other to learn to bridge those gaps, just as we have to do in our own lives. It’s so often what separates and it’s so often the easy way out but it never leads to growing deeper in love and in accepting that love. We pray today for the grace to be aware of it in our own lives, where we may be avoiding what it is that we struggle with and ask love to build a bridge there as well. In the end, what we can most offer the community is to not only open ourselves to that love in our own lives but ultimately to become that love to one another, to our brothers and sisters, to our neighbor as ourselves.