As the weeks have gone by, many have taken the opportunity to do that long overdue home improvement project or develop a new skill or habit. We took the opportunity to build wire fences around our fruit trees in the back yard so that our sheep could eat more grass and not eat the branches. One unexpected side effect of the process is that it has revealed to us how much we care about our fruit trees!
At first, we only fenced off the trees in the way back of the property and a couple of little trees off to the side. We thought “We don’t really care what happens to the other trees (there are two in separate places of the yard-it would have been a fair amount of extra work).” So we finished our original plan and the sheep went right to one of the other trees we didn’t really care about and started gnawing on the leaves and branches again. It revealed pretty fast that we did care about that tree after all! We built another fence and thought “That’s good! Now we only have one unfenced tree and we don’t really care what happens to that one.” Same story happened the very next day. We let out the sheep and they ran to the last unfenced tree for a buffet. We realized that we did care about what happened to that tree after all.
This scenario reminded me about a time when Jesus is said to “build a fence” in the Bible. On the sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7, Jesus takes time to share with the crowd how if someone gets angry at someone else, then they have already committed murder in their hearts and how if someone looks at another person with lust, then they have already committed adultery in the same way (Matthew 5:21-22 and 27-28). For some, such words sound like Jesus is setting an impossible standard of perfection. For the rabbis of Jesus’ time, this was a common practice and teaching to help others realize when they might be crossing a line from healthy community into turning from God. In this way, the “fence” is meant to point to about what and for whom God really cares.
With regard to our fences, we put them up out of the realization that we care about our trees, the unsuspecting victims of our sheep, but also because we care about our sheep. If we don’t put up those protective measures, then the sheep are only limited to a small area in our yard. They don’t get ideal grass, they have some shade-but not much, and they are cut off from where we normally work and play. We want the sheep to have greater access to the yard and socialization among humans and other animals. The fences are for the sheep as well as the trees.
In Jesus’ words, God really cares for those who would be the unsuspecting recipients of another’s anger or desire. God also really cares for those who perpetrate such things because God wants something better and something more for us as a people together. God doesn’t excuse the ways we manipulate, exploit, or abuse one another. God doesn’t allow anything to just be ok. God has hopes for us here and now and beyond. The fence is an expression and acknowledgement of such hope in the midst of our imperfect and often broken world. God is willing to go to the depths of who we are to make those hopes a reality for us, from teaching on a mount to a cross on a mount.
What may God be hoping for you/us today?