Fences and Neighbors

By: Pastor Jarren Rogers

Robert Frost is one of the greatest American poets. It’s hard to find someone who has never heard or read his infamous poem, “The Road Not Taken”: the story of a traveler who decides to take the road “less traveled by, / And that has made all the difference.”

Just over the weekend, I stumbled upon another of Frost’s poems, one that I’d not heard before, and it stopped me in my tracks. I haven’t been able to get it off my mind since.

If you get the chance, read the poem “Mending Wall”. The narrator contemplates the mystery of the holes that appear in the walls that surround his property. No one sees the holes made, but every year, around spring mending-time, the narrator and his neighbor–one on either side–walk along the wall to spot the holes and fill them.

The narrator supposes the wall is pointless. It’s not as if his apple trees will sneak into his neighbor’s yard and eat his pine cones. Why do they go through so much trouble to repair the wall every year? What’s the point?
His neighbor responds simply, “Good fences make good neighbors.”
But the narrator isn’t quite convinced. He’s only known fences to be necessary where there is livestock. But here, between his property and his neighbors, there’s nothing but trees. Before he builds a fence he’d like to know what he’s keeping in or what he’s keeping out.

Maybe he’s not the only one that doesn’t care for this “fence business”. Maybe there’s someone (or something) else who would see them torn down. Maybe that’s why the holes appear every year without reason.
But his neighbor is stubborn and says again in the last line of the poem, “Good fences make good neighbors.”

So, the question that I’m sure Frost would like each of us to muddle through is this: Is the neighbor’s saying really true? Do good fences really make good neighbors?

Fences permanently remind us of “what’s mine” and “what’s yours”. They ensure that others don’t invade our space or our lives. They protect us, make us feel secure. They prevent change and detract danger.
But I think fences make horrible neighbors.

There was a strong fence that protected good, law-keeping Jews from Samaritan women, but Christ broke it down to reach the woman at the well. There was a solid wall that kept the priest and the Levite from being responsible for the broken and battered man half-dead on the side of the road. But the Samaritan tore it down for the sake of being a good neighbor.
Fences don’t make good neighbors, they make good distractions.
Fences don’t make good neighbors, they make bad Christians.

We can spend so much time and work so hard to build up walls that make us feel safe, secure, and righteous, but those walls will always keep us from the neighborly love exemplified in Christ and played out in the parable of the Good Samaritan.

As I read Frost’s poem, I think the wall of which he wrote mirrors the walls that we construct in our churches, our homes, and our lives. And I imagined the holes that mysteriously poke through every spring can illustrate God’s grace trying to get through despite our obstinacy.

Rather than grab another stone, may we begin to tear down the fences that we build up.

Because fences make horrible neighbors.

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