In Richard Bauckham’s excellent Bible and Mission: Christian Witness in a Postmodern World he outlines four different ‘strands’ in the big story or metanarrative of the Bible, which illustrate the idea of movement in the Bible ‘From the One to the Many’:
(1) From Abraham to all the families of the earth
(2) From Israel to all the nations
(3) The king who rules from Zion to the ends of the earth
(4) To all by way of the least
I’ve been listening to Luke’s Gospel on my way home from work recently, which reminded me of this fourth strand (though, of course, each are important themes for Luke).
Here I just want to quote something Bauckham says about the theme, and then point out what this looks like in the early chapters of Luke:
This fourth of our thematic trajectories through the biblical story is a necessary reminder that the church’s mission cannot be indifferent to the inequalities and injustices of the world into which it is sent. The gospel does not come to each person only in terms of some abstracted generality of human nature, but in the realities and differences of their social and economic situations. It engages with the injustices of the world on its way to the kingdom of God. This means that as well as the outward movement of the church’s mission in geographical extension and numerical increase, there must also be this (in the Bible’s imagery) downward movement of solidarity with the people at the bottom of the social scale of importance and wealth. It is to these – the poorest, those with no power or influence, the wretched, the neglected – to whom God has given priority in the kingdom, not only for their own sake, but also for all the rest of us who can enter the kingdom only alongside them. (pp.53-54)
Consider the broken conditions into which the Gospel was announced and Jesus was born; a tiny pocket of a vast and domineering empire
Consider the barren couple to whom John the Baptist was born
Consider young, unmarried Mary
Consider the scorn and scandal
Consider the fragility of human life, of God becoming an embryo
Consider the future task of the baby in Mary’s song, to bring down rulers and raise the humble
Consider the early witnesses of Jesus: marginalised shepherds, frail but hopeful Simeon, and ancient Anna, who had known grief after only seven years of marriage.
When God became flesh he stepped into this broken world. But what Luke expertly portrays in what he says and in what he implies is the brokenness, fragility, grief and oppression endured and caused by real people in space and time.