Don’t forget that you Gentiles used to be outsiders. You were called “uncircumcised heathens” by the Jews, who were proud of their circumcision, even though it affected only their bodies and not their hearts. In those days you were living apart from Christ. You were excluded from citizenship among the people of Israel, and you did not know the covenant promises God had made to them. You lived in this world without God and without hope. But now you have been united with Christ Jesus. Once you were far away from God, but now you have been brought near to him through the blood of Christ.
I don’t know if the jigsaw puzzle metaphor is helping anyone, but I know it is helping me. One of Jesus’ supreme teaching strategies, then and now, is to take something we do understand to teach us about something we don’t understand. He readily deployed analogies, metaphors, and parables not so much to make points as to give us pictures, and to open not just our eyes but the eyes of our hearts. As Aristotle once put it, “The soul never thinks without a picture.”
In the beginning there was no puzzle, only a seamless creation’the presence of God, the union of man and woman, the harmony of creatures, and the peace of the created order. With distrust came disobedience, and with disobedience came division, and with division came separation, and with separation came shame, and with shame came fragmentation, and with fragmentation came fear. And yes, with fear came the evening news and daily updates on how everything keeps coming apart, disintegrating, and breaking down (with a little happy, sentimental bit at the end of the broadcast). That’s how we get from beautiful to broken, from peace to puzzled.
God, rich in mercy, begins again with two broken puzzle pieces—Abraham and Sarah—and proceeds to create a new people, a holy nation in the midst of whom God will dwell, and through whom he will bless the whole world, putting the whole picture back together again.
The problem is the way this people, created for the blessing of the world, became a people unto themselves. They mistakenly thought they were the picture, gathering up their pieces, chopping off the rough pieces to create straight edges, and otherwise excluding everyone else as outsiders—even going so far as name-calling!
Don’t forget that you Gentiles used to be outsiders. You were called “uncircumcised heathens” by the Jews, who were proud of their circumcision, even though it affected only their bodies and not their hearts.
Yes, Israel became their own puzzle, put together according to their own skewed biblical vision and making accommodation for many pieces that did not fit (i.e., idolatry), while excluding those pieces that God commanded must belong—pushing the poor and marginal beyond the edges.
Per his promise, God disassembled Israel’s disastrous puzzle in what the Bible refers to as the exile. Decades later, God permitted them to return to the land, where they promptly picked up where they left off with that same old self-contained puzzle. That is where Jesus Messiah, the centerpiece, entered the picture, recasting the original vision, picking up all the dislocated and dislodged pieces, and putting things back right again. More on that in the next chapter.
This is all history, but what about now? I see a warning in the opening verse for us today: “Don’t forget that you Gentiles used to be outsiders” (v. 11). Just as Israel wanted to gather up their pieces and put their own puzzle together with nice neat straight edges and sharp corners, so the church continues to do in every age. Something deep within us, some combination of pride and fear, causes us to want to exclude others, label them, and even resort to name-calling. We must remember this admonition at the depths of our being.
Once you were far away from God, but now you have been brought near to him through the blood of Christ.
We want to say who is in and who is out and back it up with biblical authority. Like Israel, we can be so right with the message yet so wrong in the way we go about the mission. We will do well to remember this is Jesus’ blood we are dealing with, not our boxes; Christ’s church, not our club.
Abba Father, we thank you for your Son, Jesus, who is both centerpiece and cornerstone. He is the one who the builders rejected yet could not be refused. Jesus, I want you to be more of the centerpiece of my life. I want to find my fit in the beautiful complexity of the puzzle-picture you are putting together. Lead me. We pray in Jesus’ name, amen.
Do you remember what it was like to be an outsider to the gospel and God’s people? (It doesn’t necessarily mean you were a notorious sinner—you could have been a faithful church attender.) Describe that.
What is your level of awareness of and appreciation for the power of the blood of Christ? Is this a conceptual truth for you or a visceral reality?
How do you see the church and churches of today all at once right in their message yet wrong in their way of mission?
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