The silent military check center was intimidating, especially at this time at night. There were no guards inside, and the sensation that I was being watched swept over me... Soon I realized that the Israeli soldiers monitoring the station were tucked away somewhere, watching us through the many security cameras and talking to us through a PDA. After passing through a steel revolving door and a metal detector, I came to the passport check. Two Muslim women up ahead of me were trying to leave the city's walls, but for whatever reason couldn't. The guard started reprimanding them loudly in Arabic and then pulled them aside. Another guard appeared and escorted them through a side door marked by a warning sign unreadable to me. My turn. The security guard glowered at me as he glanced at my passport, then motioned for me to continue.
As I exited the check station and neared the final exit, the graffiti plastered all over the wall struck me hard. There had been artwork, political statements, and posters all over the wall surrounding the rest of the city, but none had been as explicitly honest as this. The one that remains etched in my memory is a simple sentence sloppily scrolled across the wall in red spray paint: “Jesus will destroy this wall.”Safe on the bus once more, this single sentence turned in my head over and over. My memory kept returning to what had stunned me in Nazareth only a few days earlier. While walking along the streets there, our tour guide pointed out a peculiar plant growing up a telephone pole. “This is a mustard plant,” he remarked. He broke open the pod and showed us the tiny seed granules. Then, very casually and off-handedly, he added, “This grows in crazy places.”After continuing a little ways, we saw another mustard shrub. I had to do a double take to make sure my eyes weren’t deceiving me. This mustard plant was growing through a wall. As small as this plant was, it was somehow strong enough to penetrate a stone wall and start crumbling it. I was floored. If enough of those plants started infiltrating that wall, they could easily break it down.
Jesus once said that the kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed (Mt 13:31, Lk 13:18). A farmer planted it in his garden and “it grew and became a tree.” The funny thing about this is that mustard plants are not trees. They’re shrubs. Although their external shaft may be small, they have incredibly strong root systems that grow to be twice as large as the visible plant itself. Interestingly, Isaiah 53:2 describes Jesus as a tender shoot whose roots grew out of a dry ground. Jesus declared that God's kingdom had come. He broke down gender and racial walls by talking to a Samaritan woman at a well and healing another in her "unclean" hometown. He broke down walls when He touched the untouchable, healed the unhealable, and loved the unloveable. Jesus even literally broke down the "wall" in the temple that separated man from God. Ironically, people in Israel still flock to the Wailing Wall because they believe that it is the closest they can get to God's presence still emanating from the destroyed temple beyond it. Even though Jesus destroyed such walls a long time ago, we've built them back up and have created our own walls in our own minds.
As members of this kingdom, maybe we, too, are supposed to sprout out of this dry ground that is captive to another kingdom. Maybe we are supposed to grow like a small mustard plant and welcome God's presence and power here on earth. Maybe this kingdom of heaven transcends earth’s boundaries and grows into something remarkable. Maybe this kingdom grows in “crazy places” and is capable of breaking down walls – not just physical walls, like the one in Bethlehem, but social, political, religious, and even spiritual walls.
Only when we realize God's kingdom here on this earth can Jesus truly break down walls. Walls may not be visibly crumbling and mustard plants may not be noticeable just yet, but we can be confident that the roots are slowly strengthening...
For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility...-Ephesians 2:14