Mission by way of the least in Luke

Bible and Mission by Richard BauckhamIn 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.

The mission impulse of Luke-Acts

The Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles by F. Scott SpencerIn his recent book The Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles (Abingdon, 2008) F. Scott Spencer describes the ‘”mission” impulse that drives the two-volume project.’ (p.95) Indeed, his book is structured around the explicit theme of mission.

He then fleshes this out in more detail illustrating some of the ways we can understand the Bible as (to put it one way) the product and record of God’s mission:

For all the scholarly debates about the genre(s) of Luke and Acts… in a very basic sense, these books present a grand mission story-that is, the story of God’s world-restoring mission advanced in word and deed through his Son Jesus Christ and Christ’s emissaries. The main characters keep on the move, and the plot largely coheres around a series of journeys across the eastern Mediterranean world. And these characters are fundamentally missionaries undertaking mission journeys-not commercial trips, political junkets, scientific expeditions, tourist excursions, recreational getaways, or any other type of travel we might imagine. These treks proceed by the divine commission for the sole purpose of carrying out God’s will and extending God’s rule on earth.

We may outline both Luke and Acts according to a broad four-part scheme of fulfilling God’s mission:

I. Preparing God’s Mission
Luke 1-4    Acts 1-7

II. Establishing God’s Mission
Luke 4-9   Acts 8-12

III. Expanding and Interpreting God’s Mission
Luke 9-19   Acts 13-21

IV. Defending God’s Mission
Luke 20-24   Acts 21-28

The headings are self-explanatory, charting a rapid, progressive growth in God’s mission through Section III, and then slowing down in Section IV to solidify the movement and defend it against detractors. (pp.95-96, his italics)