Good Fences make Good Neighbors
In his poem, Mending Wall, Robert Frost gets a lot of credit for this quote: “Good fences make good neighbors.”
When I was growing up, I remember watching this show called Home improvement with Tim Allen.
For me, one of my favorite parts of the show was when Tim the tool man Taylor would go outside to his back yard, almost always after encountering some problem, & there he would always find his neighbor, Wilson, ready to give him some advice from the other side of the fence.
What was so funny about Wilson was that you never saw his face. He was always somewhat hidden behind the fence. But Wilson always seemed to have the perfect advice to help out his neighbor, Tim, in his time of need.
The Problem with Fences
I’m not sure at what point in our history that we came up with the idea of building fences, but I think this is what we do & what we’ve always done.
I’m sure part of it is that innate desire to protect. To protect what’s ours, to protect our family, to protect the things we value.
And I’m sure part of it is a desire to not just keep certain things out, but to keep certain things in.
I know that we build fences for a lot of good reasons. But I also know that when we build fences what we create is a structure that separates us & divides us.
But I think what we do more often than not is that we build invisible fences that no one sees but everyone knows exist.
And these invisible fences do what all fences do. They separate us. And if you come across someone who is on the other side of the invisible fence from you, you’ll keep that separation. You’ll keep that distance.
I say all of this not to make us feel guilty, but to raise our awareness that all too often we build invisible fences that separate us from other people.
And that’s exactly what happened in the story that Jesus once told about the Good Samaritan.
So Jesus told this famous story. Pay close attention to what Jesus asks the religious scholar at the end of the story & hear the answer he was given…
Here’s Luke 10.30-37 from The Voice:
Jesus: This fellow was traveling down from Jerusalem to Jericho when some robbers mugged him. They took his clothes, beat him to a pulp, and left him naked and bleeding and in critical condition. By chance, a priest was going down that same road, and when he saw the wounded man, he crossed over to the other side and passed by. Then a Levite who was on his way to assist in the temple also came and saw the victim lying there, and he too kept his distance. Then a despised Samaritan journeyed by. When he saw the fellow, he felt compassion for him. The Samaritan went over to him, stopped the bleeding, applied some first aid, and put the poor fellow on his donkey. He brought the man to an inn and cared for him through the night. The next day, the Samaritan took out some money—two days’ wages to be exact—and paid the innkeeper, saying, “Please take care of this fellow, and if this isn’t enough, I’ll repay you next time I pass through.”
Which of these three proved himself a neighbor to the man who had been mugged by the robbers?
Jesus asks a really important question… it was the same question the religious expert had already asked. Who is the neighbor?
The answer was the Samaritan. But the Samaritan was despised by this Jew. I don’t know if there is anyone you despise, but whoever that person is that you might despise, this is the person that Jesus chooses to be the hero of His story. So you can imagine how this made this religious expert feel.
He was so outraged by this, that when Jesus asked him the question… Who was the neighbor?, the religious scholar couldn’t even say it was the Samaritan. Listen to what he said.
Scholar: 37 The one who showed mercy to him.
He couldn’t speak the words that the Samaritan was the hero of the story. All he could say was that it was the “one who showed him mercy.”
The story doesn’t get interesting until you & I start asking —
Who’s the person in our life right now that’s hard to love?
Who is it that we’ll avoid if possible? Who’s the person on the other side of the road, on the other side of the fence, that for whatever reason we’re unwilling to help?
We’ll never be obedient to Jesus’ command to love our neighbor until we love them.
This religious scholar had done the same thing that we do, if we’re honest. He had built an invisible fence between him & Samaritans. And according to the rules of the invisible fence, he can’t go near this Samaritan.
And then Jesus, I’m sure adding fuel to the fire of the outrage of this religious scholar says this:
Jesus: Well then, go and behave like that Samaritan.
If you don’t take away anything else, then don’t miss this. Jesus isn’t looking for more Bible scholars, He’s looking for changed lives. Jesus doesn’t just want you to think different. He wants you to live different.
He doesn’t just want you to know what to do, he wants you to do it. He’s looking for changed lives!
Some of you, you need out of the system. You’ve tried to keep up with all the Christian do’s & dont’s & you’ve found it lacking. You’ve tried to keep the law, the rules. You’ve realized it’s not life giving.
Jesus says you want something that’s life giving… It’s relationship. With Him. With others. Do this & live.
Do fences make good neighbors?
In that same poem, Frost wonders… “Why do they make good neighbors?”
And he later says in the same poem these words, “Something there is that doesn’t love a wall, That wants in down.”
I think Jesus might say, “Something there is that doesn’t love a wall, that wants it down.”
The first fence appeared after sin entered the world. It was in the garden of Eden. Because of their sin Adam & Eve had to leave the garden & God placed angels at the entrance with flaming swords. Sin erected the first fence. (Genesis 3.24)
But then, Jesus arrived in Jerusalem. And as His disciples feared, he was arrested, falsely accused of crimes he didn’t commit, & crucified.
And moments before He breathed his last & died, the same Luke who recorded the story of the Good Samaritan tells us that the light from the sun was gone & even though it was still day it felt like night. (Luke 23.44-45)
Then this huge curtain that hung in the temple that separated the Holy Place from the Most Holy Place, this curtain that separated the people of God from the presence of God, as Jesus dies on the cross this curtain is mysteriously torn in two down the middle from top to bottom. (Luke 23.45)
God tore down the fence sin erected.
Something there is that doesn’t love a wall, that wants it down.
As Jesus dies God the Father rips wide open the fence that separates people from God.
So what fence do you need to remove in your life that you may make things next door as they are in heaven?