Last December the toll to use the Severn road bridges was scrapped; we can now drive into Wales free of charge. The first Severn Bridge opened in 1966, two years after the Forth Road Bridge. Both are fine suspension bridges and very beautiful with their simple quite delicate looking structure. We may know the slightly later Humber Bridge better. I remember taking the family to see it when it first opened and, like many other people, we walked across to the Lincolnshire side and back just to enjoy it. It also emphasized just how long the bridge is!
Last December the American Government partially closed down over the building of a wall. It refused funding for the building of a wall along the frontier with Mexico which the President wished to build. Walls are nothing new. Many of us will have walked round the medieval walls of York or Chester or have visited Hadrian’s Wall built almost two thousand years ago. We will all have heard of the Great Wall of China and perhaps joined the tens of thousands of visitors who walk on it every day and our bibles remind us that walled cities existed in Old Testament times, for example at Jericho. But walls are still being built; we will all remember the Berlin Wall, some of us saw the West Bank wall on our visit to the Holy Land a couple of years ago and now another is planned in North America.
Bridges are built to link communities. They enable people who are otherwise cut off from each other by the whims of geography to meet each other and know each other. Walls are built to divide. They separate people. They are built, so the builders tell us, for safety reasons, to keep their enemies out.
The gospels make it very clear that Jesus wants us to be bridge builders. In answering a question put to him about which was the greatest commandment, after naming ‘Love the Lord your God’ as number one, Jesus went on the give a second commandment, ‘Love your neighbour as yourself’. And when Jesus was asked ‘Who is my neighbour’, he gave us the story of the Good Samaritan, of the foreigner, despised by the Jews, who helped the injured Jewish traveller when the pious Jews had walked past on the other side of the road. To understand the story today just substitute ‘Palestinian’ for ‘Samaritan’
So how do we love our neighbour?First by getting to know that person. We have to build a bridge, we cannot do it from afar. We have to build up a relationship gradually and if we do so, we will come to love that person for who they are. Only then can we share God’s love with them.
Jesus also makes it clear that we must love our enemies. The Sermon on the Mount (Matthew’s gospel, chapters 5 to 7) is full of it.
‘Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you’.
‘If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, let him slap you on the left cheek too’.
‘If someone takes you to court to sue you for your coat, give him your coat as well’.
‘If one of the occupation troops forces you to carry his pack one mile, carry it two’
It is not an easy way to live; the easy way is to build a wall to keep such people out of our lives. But as Christians we are challenged to love our enemies, to build bridges to them, to treat them as Jesus would have done.
Sadly in many places in the world today, walls are in vogue. There is a renewed tendency towards a nationalism of the kind which leads to isolation and the ‘I’m all right, Jack’ attitude to others. As Christians let us pray for bridges in place of walls, for greater understanding between peoples and the use of the incredible communications systems we have today to bring about a more united and loving world.