Yesterday, we learned of the sweet work of reconciliation of Jesus Christ and the mystery of God’s uniting love made manifest in the union of the Bridegroom Jesus Christ with His beautiful Bride the Church. St. Paul was a faithful steward of this mystery and was willing to give his life to guard and proclaim it.
Today we hear again about those who were willing to take Paul’s life to make sure that God’s work of reconciliation didn’t take place. Without having heard the Good News of Jesus Christ, or having understood it, the Jews attack Paul for having taught men everywhere against the people, the Law, and the Temple. How ironic that Paul is now being accused of doing the same things that he witnessed the Jews accusing St. Stephen of, when he stood collecting the garments of those who stoned Stephen.
Paul had stepped into a fire ant mound without knowing it, and the ants were all streaming out to get him (if you don’t know what I’m talking about, come down to Texas and stand in my yard with me – I’ll gladly show you where). Without having even checked the facts, the Jews falsely accused Paul of having brought an “unclean” Gentile into the Temple. Without even having a trial, they seized Paul and sought to kill him.
A little background on the wall of separation that the Jews were dead-set on maintaining would be helpful. As you know, the Temple was divided into sections that marked degrees of holiness. The Holy of Holies was a perfect cube, and only the high priest could go into it, and even he could only go in on one day of the year. The Holy Place lay outside the Holy of Holies, and it was where the priests ministered to the Lord. Outside of this was the Court of Israel, and then the Court of Women.
And then a visitor would notice a strange wall, a stone wall four and a half feet high, with a strange inscription: “No foreigner may enter within this barricade which surrounds the temple and enclosure. Anyone who is caught doing so will have himself to blame for his ensuing death.” Even the Roman general Titus reminded the Jews that they had allowed the Jews to kill any Gentile who went beyond the barricade, even if he were a Roman.
This was the middle wall of separation to which St. Paul undoubtedly was alluding in Ephesians 2:14. When Jesus Christ died on the Cross, the veil was torn in two because the wall of separation between God and man had been opened, as well as the wall of separation between Jew and Gentile. 40 years later, God put an exclamation mark on His destruction of the wall of separation by having the Romans destroy the Temple.
And yet this wall of separation remains, not because God has not truly destroyed it but because we insist on rebuilding it. You’ve heard of the Wailing Wall, that part of the ancient wall of Jerusalem where Jews come to wail. Why are they wailing? They come to bewail the destruction of the Temple. Some of the rabbis have said of the Wailing Wall that if one prays there, “it is as if he has prayed before the throne of glory because the gate of heaven is situated there and it is open to hear prayer.”
It is a symbol of the Wailing Walls that we erect in our lives. Paul’s story sounds a lot like not only Stephen’s story but also his Lord’s. They are, in fact, the same story, for they are the story of Satan attacking the Son of God every chance he gets. It is the story of God and His Kingdom against the forces of Satan. It is the story of the unity in diversity of the Trinity against the lords of selfishness and chaos.
This story’s your story, this story’s my story (from California to the New York island). And the Wailing Wall is your wall because we continue to separate what God has joined together.
I’m not talking about the separations that God has ordained: it is Jesus Himself who is most clear about the separate identities and destinies of the sheep and the goats. I’m talking about the Wailing Walls that we erect in our lives as Christians: husbands against wives; bishops against priests; clergy against laity; parents against children; brother against brother; sister against sister; Christian brother and sister against Christian brother and sister. What God has joined together, let no man separate.
Yesterday, we heard about the joy in God uniting together in Christ all those who were once at war. But today it’s time to think about the sorrow of the Wailing Walls we erect in our lives. It’s time to think of them, bewail them, repent of them, and tear them down.
Prayer: O God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, our only Saviour, the Prince of Peace; Give us grace seriously to lay to heart the great dangers we are in by our unhappy divisions. Take away all hatred and prejudice, and whatsoever else may hinder us from godly union and concord: that as there is but one Body and one Spirit, and one hope of our calling, one Lord, one Faith, one Baptism, one God and Father of us all, so we may be all of one heart and of one soul, united in one holy bond of truth and peace, of faith and charity, and may with one mind and one mouth glorify thee; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Point for Meditation: Meditate on the disunity, war, and selfishness in your life. What is the Spirit telling you?
Resolution: I resolve to find one way today to show the unity, peace, and love in the Body of Christ that is the mystery of the ages. I will look especially for an opportunity to be a minister of reconciliation, especially in any division in my life.
© 2014 Fr. Charles Erlandson