Highways and hedges
Personality tests split the world into introverts and extroverts. The diagnostic is usually something about energy levels – do you energize on your own or with others? If you re-charge by yourself you’re an introvert. If you come alive around people, you’re an extrovert.
I’m not sure it’s helpful to label people so definitively. Such diagnoses never capture our complexity and are too easily used as excuses when we’re called out of our comfort zones. Nonetheless, let me ask a question: How would you label God? Is He an introvert or an extrovert?
If you read some theology you might conclude that God is an austere Individual, happiest in His own company. He is turned in on Himself and desires everything else to be equally focussed on Him. On this view, He is self-centred and we, if we want anything to do with Him, must be other-centred (i.e. centred on Him). But if you read the Bible you see that the living God is thoroughly outgoing. It’s we who are introspective – curved in on ourselves.
From before there was a universe, He shone out His Light, He spoke out His Word, He sent out His Son. This outgoing reality is the impetus for His creation. He wants others besides Him – more sons alongside the Son. Salvation is no different. He continues to reach out to an estranged world. “All day long I have stretched forth my hands unto a disobedient and gainsaying people.” (Romans 10:21) When we look to the cross – the ultimate revelation of God’s nature – how could we doubt that He is completely other-centred? And when we look at why Jesus had to die, how can we deny that we are the narcisists, pre-occupied with self and hating the Other.
While at a dinner party Jesus told a story about the nature of the kingdom. It paints ourselves and God in our true colours.
A certain man made a great supper, and bade many: 17 And sent his servant at supper time to say to them that were bidden, Come; for all things are now ready. 18 And they all with one consent began to make excuse. The first said unto him, I have bought a piece of ground, and I must needs go and see it: I pray thee have me excused. 19 And another said, I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to prove them: I pray thee have me excused. 20 And another said, I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come. 21 So that servant came, and shewed his lord these things. Then the master of the house being angry said to his servant, Go out quickly into the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in hither the poor, and the maimed, and the halt, and the blind. 22 And the servant said, Lord, it is done as thou hast commanded, and yet there is room. 23 And the lord said unto the servant, Go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled. 24 For I say unto you, That none of those men which were bidden shall taste of my supper.
The great supper is the feast of feasts on the day of the LORD – it is heaven itself. The Host is the Father. The Servant is Jesus. Those who were first invited are the Jews. And those found in “the highways and hedges” are the Gentiles – the whole world invited into the Feast.
“The highways and hedges” are the main roads and the country lanes. “Hedges” also speaks of crossing the dividing wall between Jew and Gentile (Ephesians 2:14). It means pushing all the boundaries and going out to the ends of the earth. This is the missionary love of the Father who does all things “that my house may be filled.”
On the other hand, what are we like? We are those who are more interested in our land, our oxen and our love nests (v18-20). Our investments can wait, our business interests can wait and our spouses can come along – none of these things should keep us from the kingdom. It is not land and oxen and wives that bar us from heaven – it is our determination to pursue them for our own benefit and on our own terms. And so, the natural human heart shuns the company of the banqueting hall and shuts itself away with its own interests.
We are the ones consumed with ourselves and our own priorities. God is the one going out to the highways and hedges.
Therefore, what is it to be godly? What is it to be Christlike?
Often we picture godliness in individual terms. There we are, sat on the end of our beds, reading alone, then screwing our eyes tight shut and determining not to be “worldly.” But this parable would tell us to think again.
God is the God of the highways and hedges. Therefore godliness is radical other-centredness. And Christ-likeness is opening our life out in invitation to the world.
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